Towns and cities throughout Connecticut have been at high anxiety for months awaiting the outcome of the endless budget discussions in Hartford. The many and varied proposals have succeeded in making us feel like balls in a pinball machine – bouncing from one proposal to another and without enough time to understand their impacts on our communities.
The uncertainty surrounding the budget discussions has amplified a growing message heard by Connecticut’s 169 communities: our reliance on the state for funding has put each of us in a vulnerable and precarious position, one that is unlikely to improve.
As chairman of the Lower Connecticut River Valley Council of Governments, the regional organization that includes 17 towns on the southern banks of the Connecticut River, I hear many municipal CEOs discuss the measures they undertake every day to protect their towns and assure their future. We all make tough decisions about spending, knowing our communities can tolerate just so much in taxes, and we plan ahead to minimize surprises.
When it makes sense, we work together to reduce redundancy and generate cost savings. For example, the Towns of Old Lyme and Old Saybrook, along with Regional School District 18 and Old Lyme’s Phoebe Griffin Noyes Library, recently went out to bid for electric rates. By consolidating our many accounts, we were able to lock into a $.0758/kwh generation rate, 12 percent below our previous rate of $.0857/kwh. Overall, it will collectively save us thousands of dollars over a 29-month period.
And we collaborate in other areas whenever we can: we are part of a four-town probate court system, a health district that serves seven communities, and an emergency dispatch center that covers 11 towns. Collaboration and cooperation can serve communities well when done with thoughtful research and careful planning.
Recently, there have been discussions between the towns of Old Lyme and East Lyme about the possibility of consolidating our police services. Old Lyme and East Lyme have been Resident Trooper towns for decades, but this year East Lyme formed its own independent police department and hired a chief of police.
When I reached out to the first selectman of East Lyme, he agreed that a conversation about a partnership was worthwhile, and we invited the new chief of police and the chair of Old Lyme’s Board of Finance. The initial meeting was conceptual in nature and we agreed to continue discussions. While no decisions have been made, it is apparent to all of us that there may be synergies that could improve services and reduce costs for both towns. We therefore agreed, as a recent editorial in The Day suggested, that it is clearly “worth the study.”
Those of us who are responsible for the health and well-being of our communities do not have the luxury of dismissing new ideas. We should always be willing to listen with open minds and discuss possibilities for constructive change, especially in this climate of uncertainty and rising costs.
While some have quickly rejected the mere suggestion of a combined police department, I will recommend the formation of a committee to thoroughly review the facts, costs and consequences of this partnership with our East Lyme neighbor, which shares many similarities with Old Lyme. After all, fact-gathering and open, good-faith discussion does not cost us anything, and may produce a positive outcome for our communities. If nothing comes of it, we will at least know that we did not dismiss the idea out of hand and forego a possible benefit to our towns.
Sensibly working together with our municipal neighbors offers a valuable tool to enhance our collective futures.
Bonnie Reemsnyder is the First Selectwoman of Old Lyme.