Labor Agreements Impede Shared Services, Cities Say
Danbury News-Times, March 24, 2107
By Neil Reyser
It sounded like a common-sense solution when New Milford needed to replace a retiring fire marshal, and proposed to contract with one from Danbury, which has six.
But there are rules against that.
“They said, ‘Hey, can you do our inspections for us?’ and we could have, but we would have had to negotiate a whole new collective bargaining agreement with our fire marshals,” said Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton. “And by the time we did that, we would have missed the moment for this to work.”
The inability of willing neighbors to share services when it makes sense for both sides is part of what keeps local governments from finding more efficiencies, Boughton said, and one reason he was in the state capital this week.
Boughton spoke in favor of legislation that would waive certain restrictions in municipal labor contracts when towns and cities make agreements to share services.
“When both communities want to work together voluntarily, this would take away a lot of the barriers,” said Boughton.
The bill, which was extracted from a larger report containing recommendations by the statewide Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, was the subject of public hearings this week in the state legislature’s Planning and Development Committee.
Stymied by collective bargaining agreements back to top
If the committee votes favorably on the bill, it could be scheduled for a vote in the Senate and the House of Representatives.
“Too many times towns and cities explore different opportunities to share services across town lines, only to be stymied by a provision in the collective bargaining agreement,” the CCM said in a prepared statement. “As a state with relatively high property taxes, the ability of local governments to respond to these challenges by simply raising the property tax rates is extremely limited.”
In Danbury, Boughton and the City Council have been exploring partnerships with neighboring Putnam County - a six-town region of 100,000 people across the border in New York, and with Waterbury, the state’s fifth-largest city.
Neither partnership needs the legislation pending in Hartford to proceed.
The agreement with Putnam County involves a potential deal to provide city sewer service to a Brewster-area commercial zone, and the potential to capitalize on mutual economic interests such as infrastructure projects, recreation initiatives and cultural events.
The proposed partnership with Waterbury aims to build an economic development zone along the Interstate 84 corridor, anchored by the two cities.
Boughton, the immediate past president of the CCM, worked on the larger list of recommendations about shared services and finding new sources of revenue, released by CCM in January.
He said the shared services legislation was a good first step but did not go far enough to address the need for fiscal reform in Connecticut.
Boughton and fellow municipal leaders such as Waterbury Mayor Neil O’Leary said as much in testimony in Hartford on Wednesday.
“In light of persistent state budget deficits and reductions in municipal aid, now is the time to think outside the box and be bold in offering cities and towns the chance to chart their own course and determine their future and economic prosperity,” Boughton said in testimony.