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Municipal lobby wants to shed ‘special interest’ image

Manchester Journal Inquirer, Thursday, January 14, 2016

By Mike Savino

The state’s largest municipal lobby is hoping to separate itself from other lobbyists when it launches a new ad campaign in an effort to rebrand itself as the organization representing Connecticut’s residents.

Connecticut Conference of Municipalities Executive Director Joseph DeLong told reporters Wednesday while announcing the 30-second commercial that the organization wants to separate itself from the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, AFL-CIO, and other similar special-interest groups.

“We’re not in that pot — we’re local government,” DeLong said. “We’re not a special interest, we’re a partner in government.” Along with the television ad, DeLong said CCM has revamped its website to make it more friendly for residents in hopes of “creating a dialogue.” That includes a roughly three-minute, 30-second animated video — DeLong compared it to the old “School House Rock” cartoons — discussing municipal aid and property taxes.

A narrator tells viewers that inadequate levels of municipal aid and a lack of revenue sources for municipalities have forced town officials across the state to raise property taxes. “So, when state leaders choose to cut our refund on top of already underfunding public education by $600 million, the General Assembly is really passing on a property tax increase,” the narrator says. “They’re just hoping we get lost in the smoke and mirrors.”

The video also blames unfunded mandates for increasing property taxes. DeLong said CCM intended to tell residents that municipal property tax rates are subject to change based on state municipal aid and unfunded mandates. “It’s really getting the public engaged so that they understand the relationship between the state and local partnership, that we are partners in governing,” he said about CCM’s new message.

CCM is reaching out to residents and trying to build support, he said, because some legislative leaders are keeping municipal leaders out of conversations about state budgets and policy. The increased push for visibility comes just months after DeLong told leaders at CCM’s annual meeting in June that the organization would become more aggressive with lawmakers.

DeLong, who was hired in April, also criticized lawmakers during that June meeting for supporting unfunded mandates or cuts to municipal aid while also claiming they want what’s best for their communities. On Wednesday, DeLong was careful to say that the characters in CCM’s online cartoon are not meant to portray any specific leaders at the Capitol or in the legislature.

CCM produced the commercial mostly in-house, he said, and spent $100,000 for commercial time over the next four weeks. The money comes from revenue generated through various partnership programs that CCM operates, and not from the dues that towns pay to be members, he added.

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