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2020 State Legislative Program of Towns & Cities: Setting the Stage in 2021 for Comprehensive Reforms; Making the Most in 2020 on Immediate Concerns

2020 State Legislative Program of Towns & Cities:  Setting the Stage in 2021 for Comprehensive Reforms; Making the Most in 2020 on Immediate Concerns

For immediate release:

Kevin Maloney, 203-710-3486

CCM’s new state legislative program – addressing the immediate 2020 concerns of Connecticut towns and cities – was announced today (Thursday, January 16)  by the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities; concurrently, CCM leaders are continuing to develop a comprehensive package on property tax reform for the fall state legislative campaign and the 2021 state legislative session. 

As always, CCM will be at  the front of all actions to ensure adequate levels of state aid for towns, fight against unfunded state mandates and encourage regional service sharing. 

As 2020 unfolds, CCM is gearing up on the specific issues that affect Connecticut communities and their abilities to deliver services and a high quality of life across the state. There are a number of critical issues that must be clarified and corrected and time is of the essence since the 2020 Legislative session is an abbreviated session. It will gavel in on February 5 and gavel out on May 6. CCM stands at the ready to work with the Governor and General Assembly to address our municipalities’ most pressing issues over the next 100 days  

“The short-term state legislative program for 2020, which was developed, vetted, and approved by our member town and city leaders in the final months of 2019, is focused around the notion that healthy towns and cities and regions are the key to one healthy Connecticut and its overall economic success,” said Michael Freda, First Selectman of North Haven and CCM President.

Key Short-Term Issues back to top

Here are some examples of key short-term issues:

  • Allow for towns and cities to more efficiently allocate resources and enter into service sharing agreements by:

a.      Exempting the establishment of such service sharing arrangements from the definition of “change in working conditions” for purposes of collective bargaining, and
b.      Requiring coalition bargaining for employees covered by such bargaining agreements, and all municipal and board of education employees for pensions and healthcare.

  • Enhance efforts to combat the State’s opioid epidemic by designating a state ombudsman for drug abuse and control policy tasked with coordinating efforts to enhance and examine sustainable funding streams to support substance abuse prevention, education and recovery efforts.
  • Support efforts to develop and implement a bi-partisan plan to address identified transportation infrastructure needs and enhance all areas of the existing transportation network in order to promote economic growth throughout the state. This plan must identify and allocate appropriate resources which may include the establishment of limited tolling and will enable the state to leverage all available federal funding resources.
  • Maintain funding for key municipal transportation and infrastructure grants, such as TAR, LoCIP and LOTSIP.
  • Allow municipalities the option to establish and assess user fees for public services provided to properties qualifying for a tax exemption under CGS 12-81 and not reimbursed by existing PILOT programs.
  • Allow any town or city to establish a Stormwater Authority to offset costs of implementing the current MS4 General Permit.

Policy Development for Next Fall and 2021 back to top

While at the same time, CCM leaders continue to be immersed in more extensive policy development for next fall and 2021. In early November, CCM announced the formation of the Commission on Property Tax Reform that will seek to develop — over the next 6 months — a comprehensive, grass-roots based, property tax relief initiative to be presented directly to Connecticut voters across the 169 towns and cities next summer through fall, and beyond.
 
The timing for completing the project and promoting proposals across the state would coincide with the General Assembly election campaigns next fall and the longer, five-month General Assembly session in the first half of 2021.
 
“Mayors and first selectmen know of the challenges managing a community during these tough economic times,” said Joe DeLong, CCM Executive Director. “One of those challenges is operating in a state where you have to contend with the third highest property tax rate in the country. Looking for ways to examine solutions for Connecticut’s property taxpayers is the intention of CCM’s Commission on Property Tax Reform.”
 
“The charge of the Commission is to examine ways to improve the delivery of local services in a cost-effective and property taxpayer-focused manner,” Delong noted. “The Commission will examine structural changes needed to make towns and cities — thus the State — more economically viable, and more attractive places to call home, work and run a business.” The Commission is expected to meet through the spring to develop recommendations. Afterwards, CCM will launch an intensive grassroots campaign to inform the public of the Commission’s recommendations, to ensure that meaningful property tax reform is a major part of the 2020 General Assembly election campaign, and that real action occurs after the election
 
Towns and cities in Connecticut are responsible for providing the majority of public services in our state: pre-K – 12 education; public safety; roads and other infrastructure; elderly and youth services; other social services; recreation; and wastewater treatment, among others. They must do so while meeting numerous mandates, often under-funded or unfunded, from both the federal and state governments. Funding for these critical local public services can come from various sources, including taxes, user fees and charges, revenue sharing, and state and federal aid. In Connecticut, however, there is one revenue source that provides the great majority of local funding — the property tax.
 
CCM continues to work closely with towns to encourage regional cooperative efforts that towns can agree on voluntarily on and that return the greatest savings. Yet, the property tax remains the single largest tax on residents and businesses in our state. The property tax is income-blind and profit-blind. It is due and payable whether a resident has a job or not, or whether a business turns a profit or not. According to the Tax Foundation, the per-capita property tax burden in Connecticut was $2,927 in FY 16, an amount that is almost twice the national average of $1,556 — and third highest in the nation.

Complete list of issues back to top

Below is the complete list of short term issues that local leaders are in need of the General Assembly and Governor addressing in the 2020 session.

Education back to top

  1. Provide municipalities stability and predictability in budgeting for special education by:
  1. Requiring that special education funding follows the student until such fiscal year concludes when such student changes school districts during the fiscal year,
  2. Establishing a legislative task force to examine (1) potential regional opportunities for the provision of special education services, and (2) potential opportunities to increase the involvement of Regional Education Service Centers for the provision of special education services, and
  3. Allowing a town to reduce their MBR in an amount that reflects costs associated with special education students once those students leave the district.

2. Provide regional school districts with increased predictability and stability in budgeting by requiring:

  1. Regional school districts to use a 3-5 year moving average to identify and establish operating costs, and
  2. The establishment of regional boards of finance to provide oversight to such regional boards of education. Such regional boards of finance shall have the same authorities as a local board of finance and shall be comprised of representative membership identical to the regional board of education in the regional school district in which they are located.

3. Provide municipalities predictability and stability in budgeting for education by:

  1. Requiring local governments to provide non-education related services included in board of education budgets and removing collective bargaining impediments to establishing service sharing arrangements between boards of education and local governments,
  2. Requiring boards of education to accept proposed adjustments for non- education related services made by boards of finance to board of education budgets and allowing for boards of education to establish a “contingency” line item to fund unanticipated expenditures. Such board of education shall retain line item control over the board of education budget and shall be allowed to allocate funding as they deem appropriate, and
  3. Establishing a cap on the per pupil tuition endowed academies and magnet schools are allowed to charge local governments for provision of education and special education services, and establish a state funding mechanism to subsidize such tuition charged to local governments

Environmental Management and Energy back to top

  1. Eliminate the Virtual Net Metering Credit Cap (CGS 16-244u). Such change should include the requirement that electric distribution companies allow “unassigned” VNM credits to be applied to future bills on a month-to-month basis, known as “banking,” as expressed in CGS 16-244u(c). The Legislature expanded the cap to $20 million during the 2019 session.
  2. Amend and expedite the process for approving Alternative Wastewater Treatment Systems.
  3. Expand and strengthen penalties for existing anti-baiting laws for bears to include:
  1. The intentional feeding of bears in residential areas.
  2. Ban efforts to promote and develop bear tourism consistent with the first amendment.
  3. Clarify a municipality’s ability to impose a fine for baiting or feeding bears by ordinance.

Land Use, Housing & Community Development back to top

  1. Add reason and clarity to assessment appeal proceedings by:
  1. Prohibiting contingency fee arrangements and/or agreements,
  2. Amend CGS Section 12-117a and Section 12-119 to require persons representing property owners or lessors in certain appeals concerning real property assessments to be either attorneys, certified public accountants, or certified or provisionally licensed real estate appraisers and to prohibit them from entering into contingency fee agreements in such appeals, and
  3. Amend CGS Section 12-117a to require that within ninety days of filing an appeal, the plaintiffs shall file an appraisal of the subject property completed by a person or a firm licensed to perform appraisals in the State of Connecticut. Failure to file such an appraisal within such time period shall be grounds for dismissal of the appeal.

 
2. Require that CGS 47a-42 and 49-22 be amended to make evicted tenants and foreclosed property owners responsible for all costs of the removal and storage of their property and to require the landlord of such property be responsible if such tenant or owner does not comply.
 
In addition, require that the property of deceased tenants, as outlined in CGS 47a-11d, be the responsibility of the landlord.

Municipal Labor Relations back to top

  1. Revise the binding arbitration system to realize increased efficiencies for the benefit of employees and municipal employers by requiring binding arbitration proceedings to conclude within one year from the date at which the State Board of Mediation and Arbitration provides notice to the involved parties of pending binding arbitration proceedings.
  1. Timelines may be waived for appointing arbiters. However, the binding arbitration proceedings shall still be required to conclude within one year.

2. Allow for towns and cities to more efficiently allocate resources and enter into service sharing agreements by:

  1. Exempting the establishment of such service sharing arrangements from the definition of “change in working conditions” for purposes of collective bargaining, and
  2. Requiring coalition bargaining for employees covered by such bargaining agreements, and all municipal and board of education employees for pensions and healthcare.

3. Help prevent unreasonably contested workers’ compensation claims by:

  1. Allowing municipal employers a 45 day period to review workers’ compensation claims from the date at which the municipal employer receives notice of such claim being filed, and
  2. Allowing a municipal employer to maintain the ability to appeal a workers’ compensation claim if such claim is not denied within the 45 day period following notice that such claim has been filed.

4. Increase the thresholds that trigger the prevailing wage mandate for remodeling, refinishing, refurbishing, rehabilitation, alteration or repair of any public works project from $100,000 to $500,000.

Municipal Law, Liability and Insurance back to top

  1. Reduce municipal liability through:
  1. Limit the scope of the “reckless disregard” exception to municipal immunity statute found in CGS §52-557n(b)(8). Recent Supreme Court decision in Williams v. Housing Auth. of the City of Bridgeport, et al. broadened the scope of reckless disregard. This would be accomplished through either:
  1. Deleting “under all the relevant circumstances” from the end of 52- 557n(b)(8), or
  2. Add the following sentence to the end of 52-557n(b): “For purposes of this subsection, a person acts with reckless disregard when he is aware of and consciously disregards a substantial and unjustifiable risk that an act or omission will harm an identifiable person or property.” This would tie the statute into the “identifiable person/imminent harm” exception for negligent acts by a municipal official. 

b. Enact an “assumption of risk” defense to limit liability in municipal recreational areas, including, but not limited to, bike, skateboard, dog and water parks. Such “assumption of risk” was created for ski are as and can be modeled for similar municipal provisions.

2. Amend CGS 8-2 to remove the word “advertising” from the type of signs that a municipal zoning commissions may regulate. As a result of a recent State Supreme Court decision in Kuchta v. Arisian, zoning commissions, under that statute, cannot regulate signs that merely express a personal opinion because the statute specifically references advertising signs.

3. Provide towns and cities the authority to collect fees from for-profit companies filing requests for local information that they will then sell (commonly referred to as “data mining”). Prior to the information being provided, entities must affirmatively assert whether or not such data will be used for profit. Such fees shall be based on the municipality’s assessment of actual costs for the data retrieval. Exemptions from such collection fees shall be provided to media outlets using such information to inform the public. The authority of a municipality to collect, at local option, such fees under these circumstances shall not impede or interfere with the decisions of the Freedom of Information Commission.

4. Allow municipalities that are self-insured the right of full recovery under current subrogation law against a tortfeasor and reduce the subrogation thresholds, consistent with the Workers’ Compensation Act.

Public Health and Human Services back to top

  1. Enhance efforts to combat the State’s opioid epidemic by designating a state ombudsman for drug abuse and control policy tasked with coordinating efforts to enhance and examine sustainable funding streams to support substance abuse prevention, education and recovery efforts.

Public Safety back to top

  1. Develop a sustainable funding stream to support the annual operational expenses of Connecticut Regional Fire Schools by establishing a surcharge on homeowner, renters and/or business insurance premiums. In recent years, the funding levels for these schools has been highly unstable.
  1. In addition, evaluate the amount of regional fire schools and consider reorganizing them based on DEMHS regions.

2. Maintain the current state reimbursement program for the purchase of police body cameras. The current program provides a 50% reimbursement for the purchase and storage costs associated with body cameras. To provide a sustainable funding stream to continue the program, the State should explore continuation of the program through additional utilization of federal (i.e. JAG funds) or funding from the asset forfeiture program.
 
3. Allow (a) career/paid fire departments to be reimbursed by another career/paid department, and (b) volunteer fire departments to be reimbursed by another career/paid department, for the initial recruit training costs of a firefighter, who has been employed with the department for less than two years, and decides to transfer to another department. This would be similar to the reimbursement that is allowed for police officer training. This would not include the costs of any equipment or uniforms the officer returns, as well would not affect any agreement between a police officer, collective bargaining unit, or department currently in existence.

Taxes and Finance back to top

  1. Allow municipalities the option to establish and assess user fees for public services provided to properties qualifying for a tax exemption under CGS 12-81 and not reimbursed by existing PILOT programs.
  2. Allow any town or city to establish a Stormwater Authority to offset costs of implementing the current MS4 General Permit. 
  3. Enact legislation to identify motor vehicles that are owned by Connecticut residents and illegally registered out-of-state and implement policies to limit opportunities that allow for these out-of-state registrations.
  4. MERS: Provide municipalities enrolled in MERS with the ability to create new tiers similar to the way the State has created new tiers for SERS.

These new tiers would:

  1. Exclude overtime from retirement benefit calculations;
  2. Increase the retirement age to 62;
  3. Limit cost-of-living increases to between 0 and 4%; and
  4. Allow municipally negotiated employee contributions.

Transportation Infrastructure back to top

  1. Support efforts to develop and implement a bi-partisan plan to address identified transportation infrastructure needs and enhance all areas of the existing transportation network in order to promote economic growth throughout the state. This plan must identify and allocate appropriate resources which may include the establishment of limited tolling and will enable the state to leverage all available federal funding resources.
  2. Maintain funding for key municipal transportation and infrastructure grants, such as TAR, LoCIP and LOTSIP.
  1. Reauthorize STEAP funding and release existing grant authorizations.

3. Require transit systems to publish on their website and through annual reports operational statistics like on-time performance, mean travel distance between failures or crashes, safety mechanisms, customer service.
 
4. Develop a pilot program allow identified municipalities to utilize photographic traffic enforcement technology. To accomplish this, amend state statues to include various traffic infractions to the list of registered owner - presumed operator violations, and provide that revenues collected from such enforcement be allocated directly to municipalities. Current law in Connecticut does not enable law enforcement officials to effectively use such technology to apprehend these specific traffic violators, and ultimately make roadways safer.