In Hart­ford, lo­cal lead­ers ar­gue against more cuts to mu­nic­i­pal aid

The Day - - FRONT PAGE - By GREG SMITH Day Staff Writer

Hart­ford — New Lon­don Mayor Michael Passero joined other mu­nic­i­pal lead­ers Wed­nes­day at the state Capi­tol to re­new calls for the state leg­is­la­ture to pass a state bud­get and to re­but a re­cent re­port from the gov­er­nor's of­fice that jus­ti­fies fur­ther cuts to town aid.

The Con­necti­cut Con­fer­ence of Mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties news con­fer­ence gave town lead­ers a chance to air their frus­tra­tions over a re­port re­leased by Gov. Dan­nel Mal­loy last week they say un­fairly as­signs blame for the state's fis­cal cri­sis to towns that are now strug­gling in some cases to re­main sol­vent.

The re­port pro­duced by the Of­fice of Pol­icy and Man­age­ment showed mu­nic­i­pal aid has in­creased 21 per­cent over the past five years and ac­counts for more than $5 bil­lion of the state's bud­get. The state leg­is­la­ture is

try­ing to close a two-year, $3.5 bil­lion deficit and Mal­loy is now run­ning the state through ex­ec­u­tive or­der. It’s un­clear when the bud­get stale­mate will end.

CCM called the re­port flawed, coun­ter­ing that mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties are be­ing fis­cally re­spon­si­ble and con­stantly suf­fer­ing from un­funded man­dates. The state also has un­der­funded the pay­ment in lieu of taxes pro­gram by $1 bil­lion over the past five years and ed­u­ca­tional cost shar­ing by $600 mil­lion, said John Elsesser, the town manager of Coven­try and sec­ond vice pres­i­dent of CCM.

“It’s no se­cret the state has run out of bread to op­er­ate with the cur­rent rev­enue sources. They seem to have adopted the ‘let the towns eat cake’ ap­proach,” Elsesser said.

Towns are sup­posed to be re­im­bursed by 45 per­cent of lost tax rev­enue from most state-owned prop­er­ties and 77 per­cent from col­leges and hospi­tal prop­erty. Elsesser said that in fis­cal year 2017 the state re­im­bursed less than 20 per­cent for state-owned prop­erty and less than 30 per­cent for col­lege and hospi­tal prop­erty.

Tax-ex­empt prop­er­ties are a sen­si­tive topic in New Lon­don, where Passero and state Rep. Chris Soto, D-New Lon­don, have lob­bied for ways to bet­ter con­trol which en­ti­ties are al­lowed tax-ex­empt sta­tus.

New Lon­don passed a fis­cal year 2018 bud­get with a more than 9 per­cent tax hike that is blamed mostly on the loss of state rev­enue. It caused a back­lash from some res­i­dents who have pe­ti­tioned for a mean­ing­ful bud­get re­duc­tion or a city­wide vote. The City Council has so far de­layed ac­tion on the pe­ti­tion, hop­ing for pas­sage of a state bud­get and a boost in state aid.

Nearly 45 per­cent of prop­erty in New Lon­don is tax ex­empt, Passero said.

“In New Lon­don, our prob­lem is the state leg­is­la­ture won’t let us tax the prop­er­ties in New Lon­don. So the bur­den of pro­vid­ing mu­nic­i­pal ser­vices for close to 45 per­cent of the prop­er­ties is trans­ferred to the other 55 per­cent. It has been un­sus­tain­able for a num­ber of years but this year ... it has been killing us,” he said.

Passero said the city has been fis­cally re­spon­si­ble, with an 18 per­cent in­crease in ex­penses over the past 15 years and just a 1.8 per­cent in­crease over the last five years.

He said the city is also the hub of so­cial ser­vice agen­cies for south­east­ern Con­necti­cut.

“They come into our town with the best of in­ten­tions, buy prop­er­ties, set up or­ga­ni­za­tions and take the prop­er­ties off the tax rolls,” he said.

CCM also ar­gues that the gov­er­nor’s re­port fails to con­sider the im­pact of un­funded man­dates. And with the ma­jor­ity of state aid go­ing to public ed­u­ca­tion and to meet ed­u­ca­tional man­dates, state law only al­lows towns lim­ited con­trol over ed­u­ca­tion spend­ing. Towns also have no con­trol over teacher con­tracts and pen­sions. CCM ar­gued that the lat­est pro­posal by Democrats to force mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties to pro­vide post-trau­matic stress dis­or­der ben­e­fits for po­lice of­fi­cers would be dev­as­tat­ing.

New­town First Select­woman Pa­tri­cia Llo­dra said Wed­nes­day that she is pre­dict­ing her town will be with­out any cash by the fourth quar­ter of the fis­cal year, which will lead the town to raid its un­des­ig­nated fund bal­ance or is­sue new tax bills. Pulling from its re­serves could im­pact the town’s bond rat­ing and lead to higher bor­row­ing in­ter­est rates, she said.

“Make no mis­take about it, ei­ther or both of those ac­tions end up on the backs of prop­erty own­ers,” she said.

Of­fice of Pol­icy and Man­age­ment Sec­re­tary Ben Barnes, Mal­loy’s bud­get chief, re­cently sent let­ters to mu­nic­i­pal lead­ers to re­quest in­for­ma­tion about fund bal­ances and planned ac­tions in the event of a pro­longed lack of a state bud­get. On Wed­nes­day he called on town lead­ers to con­tact the state if they thought there would be cash flow prob­lems as a re­sult of the lack of a state bud­get.

“I cer­tainly ap­pre­ci­ate the frus­tra­tion that you all must feel. I know that it is painful to be asked to ac­cept less state aid, and in­fu­ri­at­ing to be asked to do so this late in the game,” he said in a state­ment.

Barnes said that Mal­loy’s ex­ec­u­tive or­der spend­ing plan is only in­tended to keep ba­sic gov­ern­ment func­tion­ing for a por­tion of the year un­til a full bud­get is adopted.

“With­out an adopted bud­get, the state is more than $1 bil­lion short of main­tain­ing sta­tus-quo op­er­a­tions, in­clud­ing mu­nic­i­pal aid,” he said in the let­ter. “The Gov­er­nor has re­peat­edly said that gov­ern­ing by ex­ec­u­tive or­der is not what he wanted to do. It is un­ac­cept­able to con­sider that the leg­is­la­ture would not act soon to adopt a bud­get, at which time mu­nic­i­pal grants and other items that we have had to limit can be brought up to the lev­els in the adopted bud­get.”

Su­san Brans­field, first select­woman of Port­land and CCM pres­i­dent, called on the leg­is­la­ture to quickly agree and en­act a bud­get that is “bal­anced and fair to all, in­clud­ing prop­erty tax­pay­ers,” and to pro­vide a pre­cise sched­ule of cat­e­gor­i­cal state aid grants and when they will be paid to mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.