Connecticut Conference of Municipalities Executive Director Joe DeLong Keith M. Phaneuf / file photo

Nearly half of Connecticut cities and towns participating in a recent survey have frozen spending or cut services in response to state budget gridlock and the associated threat of reduced municipal aid, the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities reported Monday.

Of 61 communities surveyed, 29 reported some type of spending freeze since the fiscal year began on July 1.

Examples include freezing hiring and capital spending, deferring public works and public safety equipment purchases and summer road construction work, and stopping all discretionary spending.

Similarly, 28 out of 61 participating cities and towns reported service cutbacks, including reductions to: education positions, police overtime, summer youth programs, library hours of operation, parks and recreation services, and environmental testing.

“These survey results present a snapshot of the stresses on local government as they attempt to start their fiscal year, with little or no direction from the state regarding the level of state aid they will receive, never mind the level of state aid they need,” said CCM Executive Director Joe DeLong. “As you can see, with the looming state budget crisis this spring and summer, towns and cities moved to cut spending and limit tax hikes as they feared a significant reduction in municipal aid.”

Other survey results include:

  • An average overall local government spending increase of 1.52 percent;
  • An average education spending increase of 1.37 percent;
  • An average mill rate increase of 2.86 percent.

The survey also found just over three-quarters of respondents supported removing the state cap on property tax rates on motor vehicles of 37 mills. The cap was imposed with the expectation that all communities would share $340 million this fiscal year in state sales tax receipts under a revenue-sharing program enacted by legislators and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy just two years ago.

But all state budget proposals issued to date either reduce that funding or eliminate it entirely.

“And the specter of towns and cities needing to reopen their local budgets to adjust for significant cuts in state aid that could result from a final state budget agreement has created an unprecedented local-budget situation among municipal leaders ─ who pride themselves on responsible fiscal management and balanced local budgets year in and year out,” noted DeLong.

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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