While “open for business” is the message Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is sending to Connecticut companies, “closed for budgetary reasons” might be the new catch phrase to describe many state facilities.

The governor’s new budget-balancing plan aims to save more than $21 milion this fiscal year by closing everything from armories, prisons and Department of Motor Vehicles facilities to adult education centers, various agency branch offices, and group homes and respite centers for the developmentally disabled.

And the administration’s $43.2 million cut to this year’s Judicial Branch budget prompted Chief Justice Chase T. Rogers to announce several further reductions, including closure of four courthouses and realignment of services in several others.

respite center

DDS respite center in Windsor is one of nine that would be closed in budget-cutting plan

“The more people rely on state services, the more likely they are to feel an impact,” Malloy’s senior adviser, Roy Occhiogrosso, said Thursday at the Capitol. “As the governor has said, ‘What’s the alternative?’ The state is facing a massive fiscal crisis.”

Trying to compensate for a rejected labor concession package reportedly worth $1.6 billion over this fiscal year and next, Malloy found his biggest savings — when it came to closing doors — within Connecticut’s prison system.

By closing the Bergin Correctional Institution in Mansfield and second facility in Enfield, and by laying off 377 workers employed at those prisons, the administration estimates it can save $18 million this year and $23.5 million in 2012-13.

Connecticut’s prison population averaged 17,520 inmates during the first week in June, its lowest total for that month since 2001 and more than 260 inmates below annual projections issued back in February.

And while state employee unions argue the inmate population remains too high to allow security staff to be reduced safely, the legislature and Malloy took steps during the regular 2011 session to drive inmate levels down further.

The newly adopted policies, which focus heavily on rehabilitation, would allow inmates to earn credits toward an earlier release, provided they participate in treatment services, education, training and other re-entry programs.

Former state Rep. Michael P. Lawlor, who heads the administration’s Criminal Justice Policy and Planning Division said estimated that about 300 current inmates, would be eligible for consideration. It costs about $28,000 annually to incarcerate the male offenders, and slightly more for women, he said.

Enfield Superior Court, along with juvenile courts in Danbury, Rockville and Torrington, would close under a new plan that left Rogers questioning whether the branch can meet its constitutional obligations.

“I fear that our courts will be unable to fulfill the mandate that the Constitution requires and that every resident deserves,” Rogers said. “Because we have no option but to close and consolidate courts and to lay off 452 employees, these cuts will dramatically change the way the Judicial Branch does business.”
The chief justice added that the state courts faces 550,000 cases annually and “we don’t have the option of turning away cases.”

The administration plan also calls for the closure of one maximum security unit for the criminally insane at the Whiting Forensic Institute. This would lower the number of available beds from 91 to 79. The plan did not project an immediate savings from that move.

This budget is balanced, it’s balanced honestly, and it begins the long overdue process of downsizing Connecticut’s state government to make it one that taxpayers can afford,” Malloy said Friday in a joint statement with Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman.  “As everyone knows, we would have preferred to achieve these objectives by reaching an agreement with our state fellow employees; unfortunately, that agreement was rejected.  While it remains a possibility that the unions will change their process and ratify an agreement, we cannot count on that happening.  We have a job to do, and by putting forward this plan that’s exactly what we’re doing.”

The state’s developmentally disabled patients and their families also would take a hit in the new budget-balancing plan.

All nine respite centers, regional facilities where families caring for patients can bring them for a temporary break from providing care, would close.

“The Department of Developmental Services recognizes that individuals and families often need occasional breaks,” according to the agency website’s promotional page for these centers.  “These breaks, in the form of out-of-home respite care, allow individuals visiting the respite centers to have an enjoyable time, meet new people and participate in a variety of fun activities. … At the same time, the caregiver is able to take a few days off from care giving and perhaps go on a short vacation, attend a special event, spend time with other family members, finally finish a project, or simply relax.”

The administration estimates that about 800 families and patients used these centers last fiscal year.

Office of Policy and Management Secretary Benjamin Barnes, Malloy’s budget director, said this was one of the most difficult cuts to order, but it was hard to avoid because it is one of the few services provided to the developmentally disabled and their families that is not mandated by either federal or state law.

“I find it very troubling and it would be among the first (cuts) I would undo” if fiscal circumstances were better, Barnes said.

The administration also wants to close four group homes that provide residential services and other care, along with two units at the Southbury Training School and one as-yet-unidentified regional congregate living facility.

The developmental service closures would save more than $12.2 million and eliminate jobs for 147 full- and part-time workers.

Malloy administration officials also warned Tuesday that Connecticut residents likely can expect to face longer lines the next time they visit the DMV.

Branch offices in Danbury, Enfield, Old Saybrook and Putnam would close, as would photo-licensing centers in Derby, Middletown and Milford, with 49 employees being laid off in total.

To partially offset these closures, part-time DMV offices in Winsted and Windham would be expanded to provide full-time service hours.

The net savings from these changes within the DMV are projected at $2.1 million this year and $2.8 million by 2012-13.

Residents needing assistance from the Department of Social Services and the Commission on Human Rights & Opportunities also might have to travel farther.

The administration plans to close DSS regional offices in Middletown and Stamford, laying off 101 staffers and saving $4.5 million this year and $7.1 million by 2012-13.

The CHRO closure would save more than $481,000 this year, eliminating nine jobs.

The administration also plans to save $100,000 this year by eliminating several small leases for various state agencies and reassigning those staff to space in government-owned buildings.

Other planned closures across state government include:

  • Two unidentified adult education centers within the Connecticut Technical High School system.
  • State armories in Manchester, Norwalk and Naugatuck to save a combined $117,560 by 2012-13. Staff from Manchester would be reassigned to a Middletown readiness center while those in the other two would move to a Danbury center.
  • Support buildings at seven state highway rest areas would be shut down, though parking at these facilities would remain open.

Keith has spent most of his 31 years as a reporter specializing in state government finances, analyzing such topics as income tax equity, waste in government and the complex funding systems behind Connecticut’s transportation and social services networks. He has been the state finances reporter at CT Mirror since it launched in 2010. Prior to joining CT Mirror Keith was State Capitol bureau chief for The Journal Inquirer of Manchester, a reporter for the Day of New London, and a former contributing writer to The New York Times. Keith is a graduate of and a former journalism instructor at the University of Connecticut.

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