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Are COGs Connecticut’s Future Counties?

Are COGs Connecticut’s Future Counties?

New Haven Independent, May 14, 2020

By Chris Gilson, CCM Communications Writer 

Connecticut does not have counties, so who fills in during a crisis when local governments need to work together?

Sam Gold, the executive director of the Lower Connecticut River Valley Council of Governments (River COG), joined the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities’ and WNHH FM’s “The Municipal Voice” to talk about how COGs might be the future counties of Connecticut.

Gold and the River COG has stepped in during the Covid-19 pandemic to pull together resources for the 17 cities and towns in its region, which includes Chester, Deep River, Middletown, Westbrook and more.

One role has been to field municipalities’ new legal questions. How do you hold a Zoom call that is compliant with open meeting rules? How do you educate staff and the public while running a meeting?

Gold has collaborated with the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities (CCM) and the Council of Small Towns (COST) to find the answers.

“Everyone was scrambling for legal advice,” he said. After dozens of executive orders, “We’re up to guidance document number four.”

Towns found some success as they overcome these hurdles. Gold said that more people are attending virtual meetings from their homes, not less. Gold said that as the pandemic subsides, he expects governments to start treating high-speed internet as an essential service.

A new form back to top

Another change Gold expects is the revival of the county in Connecticut, albeit in a new form.

COGs have been working with the Connecticut Office of Policy and Management and the Census Bureau to get a county designation. While they would not have the taxing power of a traditional county, they would be able to take in money.

Along with several other organizations, CCM has urged the federal government to provide more direct funding to municipalities because no Connecticut municipality reached the population threshold under the CARES Act. Under that same law, New Haven, Hartford, and Fairfield counties stood to get direct funding. Since there are no counties, those dollars went to the state.

Gold said that municipalities need those funds now to address the coronavirus crisis.

“This is when you break out the credit card. There’s going to be a real need for Washington to address a municipal and state bailout,” he said.

When Gold first took his position five years ago, he had big plans for the area. Now many of those plans include helping communities and small businesses figure out how to recover long-term.

The fact that Connecticut has done so well in the face of this crisis is because of the work of municipalities, COGs and organizations like CCM and COST that have kept the state going, he said.