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Cities and Towns Face Massive State Aid Cuts Under Revised Budget Plan

Cities and Towns Face Massive State Aid Cuts Under Revised Budget Plan

Hartford Courant, May 18, 2017

Municipal officials across the region were stunned by the potential impact of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's latest proposed cuts in state aid to cities and towns, and doubted the General Assembly would approve such severe reductions.

In his new budget proposal for the next two fiscal years, Malloy recommends cutting an additional $362 million a year in money cities and towns currently get from the state. Malloy's plan would also require municipalities to pay $400 million annually for teacher pension costs.

Malloy insisted major changes are needed if the state is going to deal with a projected budget gap that could top $2 billion for the 2017-18 fiscal year.

"This revised budget would be a disaster for small towns," said Elizabeth Gara, executive director of the Connecticut Council of Small Towns. She called Malloy's latest plan "a non-starter in terms of votes in the General Assembly," but said that if it were to pass, it would "impose an almost $1 billion property tax increase" on residents across the state.

"The budget solution that will emerge from the consensus of all the groups [involved in the legislative budget process] will look vastly different than the governor's proposal," said Joe DeLong, executive director of the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities.

DeLong said if municipalities in Connecticut were forced to accept these massive cuts they would "still exist; but what we want for Connecticut towns and cities is more than just survival."

West Hartford Mayor Shari Cantor said she felt blindsided by the governor's second proposal. "You take a successful, vibrant, diverse community with a high mill rate [and] triple-A bond rating and just gut it and it's just shocking," Cantor said. "We would not be able to manage our way through this without really a significant change in our community."

Makes no sense back to top

West Hartford Town Manager Ron Van Winkle said Malloy's second proposal "makes no sense."

"I don't know what we would do, I have no idea how we would handle a cut this large," Van Winkle said. "... it's like cutting our police and fire department, eliminate them both and we'd be OK."

West Hartford's town council on April 25 adopted a $285.4 million budget for the 2017-18 year, a $17 million or 6.4 percent increase over the current $268.3 million.

"I understand they have serious problems but they can't pass this on to the towns when we've adopted all our budgets, we're done," Van Winkle said. "What would we do? How would we get there? We couldn't. We'd be borrowing money to pay our bills. This would be something you could talk about last fall but not now. We're done."

That budget West Hartford town council members adopted assumed that the cuts proposed by Malloy earlier this year would not come to fruition, but the town did include a $7 million contingency fund in the event education cost-sharing funding do not materialize.

On Monday, Van Winkle said even with the $7 million contingency, "We have nothing we can turn to to absorb the size cuts that they're talking about, there's nothing."

Under the first budget plan Malloy proposed in February, Glastonbury would have lost $6.5 million of its $6.7 million in educational cost sharing. The governor's latest budget plan would eliminate the last of that funding.

Simsbury First Selectwoman Lisa Heavner said under Malloy's second budget proposal, the town is looking at a $9.5 million loss "worst-case-scenario impact."

"The word of the day continues to be the word that it's been all spring, which is 'frustration,'" Heavner said.

In Simsbury, the board of selectmen and board of education have provided recommendations to the board of finance, including $200,000 in cuts to the town budget and $800,000 in cuts to the school district's budget, Heavner said.

"It's very difficult to do municipal budgets with this amount of uncertainty, it's really almost impossible," Heavner said. She said Malloy's second proposal is a "substantial tax increase on municipalities" with a tax "that the state of Connecticut already overrelies on — the property tax."

"There wasn't a lot of whacking of the money left for him to do," Glastonbury School Superintendent Alan B. Bookman said of the latest funding cut.

Last month, the board of education made more than $3 million in reductions to its spending plan to make up for the potential loss of state aid. The town council approved a budget that froze both the town and school spending at current levels to make up for the loss of the ECS funding.

"The state legislature has made it clear that it doesn't want to do this," Bookman said of the cuts to ECS money. "The legislature really needs to find a way to work together. There's a long way to go before anything is resolved."