SOUTHINGTON - Regionalization was a topic of discussion among a panel of legislators that included House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz at the Connecticut Council of Small Towns’ annual meeting.
The organization’s 41st annual meeting was held Wednesday morning at the Aqua Turf Club and was attended by 275 community leaders and business owners from throughout the state. The meeting’s purpose, according to Litchfield First Selectman and small towns council President Leo Paul, was to address the fiscal troubles that the state was facing and see what could be done to prevent additional cuts to municipalities. Paul encouraged all those who attended to go to Hartford and testify before legislators on this issue.
“This is a year where we definitely need to make sure that our voices are heard in Hartford, especially with the governor’s holdbacks and adjustments to aid,” said Paul.
A panel, including Aresimowicz; state Sen. Cathy Osten, deputy Senate president pro tempore; state Sen. Kevin Wilkos, deputy Senate Republican president pro tempore; and state Rep. Themis Klarides, House Republican leader, answered questions about the state’s fiscal woes. Christine Stuart of CTNewsJunkie was the moderator.
When Stuart asked about consolidating non-educational services, Osten and Aresimowicz spoke in favor of doing so.
“I have been encouraging it in the General Assembly,” said Aresimowicz. “There is nothing in collective bargaining that will preclude regionalization and we put that into law with the last budget. There are opportunities to share many services, like animal control and police dispatch centers. Los Angeles is almost the same size as Connecticut and has one dispatch center.”
Aresimowicz said that reductions in municipal aid should have been phased in.
“We can’t just do it all at once all of a sudden; it was very unfair the way the governor did things,” he said.
Wilkos said that he believes regionalization should not be “forced” onto communities, and likened doing so to an unfunded mandate. Klarides agreed with him, but also agreed with Aresimowicz that services such as animal control could be consolidated.
“Times are tough and we need to think outside of the box,” she said. “I don’t agree with forced regionalization, but we should sit down, sharpen our pencils and figure out ways to do things that don’t take away our fiefdoms but still give us more bang for our buck.”
Aresimowicz also spoke of creating another tier of state health insurance, which he said would require less money to enter into and which would “result in a lot of savings.” He also proposed eliminating the car tax, which he called a “nuisance tax” and rolling car taxes into the mill rate in each community.
“The car tax has long outlived its efficiency,” he said.
Earlier in the meeting, Kevin Lembo, state comptroller, explained the reasons for the state’s fiscal problems.
“We have had a historical pattern with legislators budgeting up when Wall Street takes off and then there is an economic bust and we don’t have much money set aside,” he said. “The result is a jagged up and down that leads to taxes being raised and hopes being dashed. We are now trying to put forth a bill that will change that and make sure that we set aside money during good economic times for periods of downturn. We reviewed a 10 year period and realized that if we had done this, we would have weathered the past two economic downturns without raising taxes or making cuts to municipal aid. Right now we are facing high volatility, limited reserves and limited fiscal flexibility.”
Brian M. Johnson can be reached at 860-973-1806 or firstname.lastname@example.org.