As state officials increase their warnings that municipal aid may be curtailed in the coming years, Connecticut’s cities and towns will craft their own plan to regionalize services and make local government more efficient.
The Connecticut Conference of Municipalities announced Monday the formation of a new “state-local partnership panel” to find ways to ease burdens on property taxpayers, diversify local options to raise revenue and deliver services regionally.
The panel, which will feature mayors, first selectmen and town managers — including leaders from some of Connecticut’s largest cities — will deliver a blueprint to legislators in December.
“We are seeking to develop a legislative action plan that can be implemented by the 2017 General Assembly and designed to change the course of events in Connecticut towns and cities” starting next July, said Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, who is CCM president and chairman of the study group.
Other panel members include:
- Town Manager John Elsesser of Coventry;
- Mayor Marcia Leclerc of East Hartford;
- Mayor Luke Bronin of Hartford;
- First Selectman Leo Paul of Litchfield;
- Town Manager Matt Hart of Mansfield;
- Mayor Erin Stewart of New Britain;
- Mayor Toni Harp of New Haven;
- First Selectman Michael Freda of North Haven;
- Mayor Deb Hinchey of Norwich;
- Mayor David Martin of Stamford;
- Mayor Neil O’Leary of Waterbury;
- Town Manager Jeff Bridges of Wethersfield.
“This panel has ambitious goals that must be met in less than 120 days,” said Joe DeLong, CCM’s executive director. “We are not looking for another study that will be filed on an office shelf.”
House Speaker J. Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, who launched the state M.O.R.E. (Municipal Opportunities and Regional Efficiencies) Commission in 2008 to encourage more efficient budgeting at the local level, welcomed the new panel.
“I founded the M.O.R.E. Commission eight years ago because the property tax is the most regressive, burdensome tax that faces Connecticut’s families,” Sharkey said. “Today, this work is all the more important because the state cannot afford to finance inefficiency at the local level. I look forward to CCM’s new panel working together with the M.O.R.E. Commission to propose policies for 2017 that will constrain spending and provide relief to municipal taxpayers.”
Municipal leaders have complained that they haven’t played a significant role at the Capitol in recent years as lawmakers developed a major new plan to share sales tax receipts with cities and towns.
That plan, which has just began sharing significant state revenues with communities, already has been scaled back significantly as the state grapples with big projected deficits.
Communities originally were told sales tax revenue sharing would amount to $246 million this fiscal year, nearly $300 million in 2017-18, and about $350 million by 2018-19 and each year thereafter. That last number represented the revenue from one-half of 1 percentage point on the sales tax.
Some of those funds were supposed to offset revenue losses to cities and towns as they state capped property taxes on motor vehicles in more than 50 municipalities with the highest mill rates.
But as legislators and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy struggled last May to close a $1 billion hole in the 2016-17 fiscal year without raising taxes, they reduced the promised revenue-sharing from $246 million to $185 million.
In addition, they cut promised increases in other municipal grants by about $100 million.
The vehicle tax freeze was also scaled back significantly. The plan to cap municipal rates on vehicles at 32 mills was modified to 37 mills. According to CCM, only 17 of Connecticut’s 169 cities and towns currently tax vehicles at a higher rate than 37 mills.
Meanwhile, nonpartisan analysts estimate there is an even larger deficit, approaching $1.3 billion, built into state finances in the 2017-18 fiscal year.