HARTFORD: Leaders from the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities–representing nearly a dozen towns and cities–held a news conference today in the Legislative Office Building to discuss “legislative priorities for the 2009 General Assembly session” and to explain how their respective towns and cities are being affected by the economic crisis. Their message was clear– the State of Connecticut needs to immediately accept regionalism as a way to maintain services and create revenue. Present at the conference: Elizabeth Paterson (Mayor of Mansfield and President of Connecticut Conference of Municipalities), John DeStefano (Mayor of New Haven), William Finch (Mayor of Bridgeport), Eddie Perez (Mayor of Hartford), Scott Slifka (Mayor of West Hartford), Melody Currey (Mayor of East Hartford), Sebastian Giuliano (Mayor of Middletown), Richard Moccia (Mayor of Norwalk), Mary Glassman (First Selectman of Simsbury), Laura Francis (First Selectman of Durham), Susan Bransfield (First Selectman of Portland), and James J. Finley, Jr. (Connecticut Conference of Municipalities Executive Director and CEO).
Bridgeport Mayor Finch expressed the severity of his city’s economic woes. In order to remain solvent, they had to borrow money. This was even with mass layoffs in the city. Finch explained that “Bridgeport is a couple blizzards away from bankruptcy.” The snowballing financial crisis is affecting mid-sized cities and towns also, though there is more of a buffer zone between solvency and bankruptcy. Neighboring West Hartford, for example, has also made job cuts. As First Selectman Bransfield said, “without cooperation we are not going to survive” this economic recession.
Despite the legal fiasco she described involving one truck being shared by eight towns and the resulting costs of eight lawyers, Selectman Mary Glassman of Simsbury avowed that “we know regionalism works.” Laura Francis, First Selectman of Durham, said “every town plays a role,” and explained how smaller towns provide farmland, housing for industry, and greenways. Mayor DeStefano issued the reminder that without thriving central cities, such as Hartford, Bridgeport, and New Haven, the state as a whole can not thrive. Mayor Paterson insisted that “local government and state leaders need to work together.”
Mayor Giuliano of Middletown along with Mayor Currey of East Hartford expressed discontent with certain mandates. Giuliano spoke about how difficult it is to meet the “cost of complying with mandates that are not funded” and asked that the State “if not repeal, at least delay implementation of” mandates such as the requirement (as of July 2009) that all school suspension occur in school. Other “spending pressures” cited: “municipal responsibility to collect and store the possessions of evicted residential tenants,” “FOI-webposting requirements,” and “police treatment of 16 and 17-year olds as juveniles” (effective January 2010). Though Mayor Finch expressed concern that the media were going to run with the FOI issue when in Bridgeport, he is concerned with keeping basic services like sanitation and the fire departments running, it should be mentioned that the “inability” for some towns to handle posting minutes on websites within the new timeframe is unbelievable. We live in the 21st century and if those taking minutes or typing them later are not “web savvy,” they should either go through a simple training or be replaced. Most young interns could handle such a simple task, so I don’t think that an economic crisis is an excuse for not doing something that literally can take only five minutes to do.
Mayor Finch was right. There are larger problems to contend with than updating municipal websites. First Selectman Glassman explained that money is needed, but she can’t ask the state for it, and she can’t ask residents for more in terms of property tax. CCM is asking for regional sales tax that can be used specifically for that region. For instance, revenue from hotel tax in one region would go back into that particular region. They are also pressing for the state to increase its sales tax to 7% and share half of that new revenue with regional centers, while the state would keep the other half. Additionally, CCM is looking to make better land use and transportation decisions through regional cooperation. They are asking for a delay of property tax revaluation and for the State to continue increasing its contribution toward public education until it reaches 50%.
In their call to regionalism, they referred to an antiquated property tax system. In the literature which they provided, they stated:
Shackled to an 18th century property tax system that is insensitive to income, and an incoherent and fractious land use system that fosters intermunicipal competition and sprawl development, towns and cities in our state face a host of challenges.[...] But the question is whether local governments will retain the capacity to raise the revenues necessary to pay for the public services that people and businesses need, or whether they will continue to be financially squeezed by state government actions or inactions that drive up local costs, limit their ability to raise revenue, and fail to maintain financial assistance at levels that keep up with the need and reduce the crunching burden of the property tax.
To provide relief from one burden, they are asking the state to turn to other options.
The Connecticut Conference of Municipalities was founded in 1966. Their stated mission is to “enable cities and towns to do together what they cannot do as well by themselves; meet the evolving needs of local governments and their elected and appointed officials; effectively advocate municipal interests in the legislature, the executive branch, and other forums; promote progressive, responsive, effective, and efficient local government.”
For another take on the conference, check out the article on CT News Junkie