Communities struggle to stay ahead of state cuts

Southington Town Manager Garry Brumback addresses attendees of the State of the Town ceremony on Thursday. Two days earlier, Brumback was Southington’s representative at a Connecticut Conference of Municipalities (CCM) conference.

By JEN CARDINES

STAFF WRITER

How will state budget cuts affect Connecticut towns? On Tuesday, Feb. 14, that was the question that permeated a conference hosted by the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities (CCM).

With a Connecticut General Assembly that’s more sharply divided than ever, the organization—comprised of mayors, town managers, first selectmen, financial personnel, and other town officials—has stepped up their lobbying efforts at the state level, so the conference offered another chance to address the challenges for the state’s cities and towns over the next fiscal year.

Town Manager Garry Brumback represented Southington at the event, which provided municipality officials with information about how the state budget will impact different areas of the community. Brumback said that the uncertainty at the state level forced him to be even more conservative with his recent budget proposal.

Southington officials across the board are trying to avoid a replay of some of the financial issues caused by the state lawmakers’ mid-year cuts this past December. Brumback said that he is not budgeting the revenue from the Local Capital Improvement Program (LoCIP), based on last year’s cuts.

“Town Aid Road is also a bonded number, and I’m just conservatively saying this is a potential problem,” said Brumback. “If these come in, we can always add them.”

Malloy’s budget proposal calls for a new Education Cost Sharing (ECS) grant formula, which will directly affect Southington. The town will lose about $5.2 million in the ECS grant, but the governor is proposing an $8.3 million grant for special education which will be calucated with a separate formula from ECS.

During the governor’s budget address on Feb. 8, Malloy said that the new formula “uses a more accurate measure of wealth by using the equalized net grand list as well as a better measure of student poverty, allowing the state to direct support to communities with higher concentrations of poverty.”

“The emphasis is on providing more support to the cities that are in financial strains and getting that support from the towns that are financially stable,” Brumback said.

Brumback added that Southington’s finances are in good shape when compared to some communities. He pointed to Southington’s AA+ bond rating, along with other indicators.

“We’re very stable,” he said, “actually, we’re better than stable.”

Malloy suggested that municipalities could levy a real estate property tax on hospitals in order to generate revenue. If Southington were to participate in this, Bradley Hospital would receive a tax bill of almost $500,000.

“It would be inappropriate for me to tax Bradley Hospital,” said Brumback. “This community has been working for the past two years to keep it open. To then turn around and give them a $486,000 tax bill would cause them to close their doors.”

Malloy also proposed that the gap in teacher’s pension funds should be absorbed by municipalities. Should this occur, Southington’s liability would be $4.5 million.

Under the current procedures, teachers pay a portion of their pension, while government funds the rest. In the past, Connecticut didn’t invest enough to cover their portion. Malloy said that the state cannot afford to fill in the gap completely, so he proposed that towns should foot the bill.

Brumback said that, should Southington need to take on these additional tax burdens, the mill rate would have to increase.

Southington’s Board of Finance is reviewing budget proposals from the Board of Education and the Town Manager which would require a 1.51 mill rate increase if it stands. Brumback said that more than half of that increase (.84 mills) is a result of state budget cuts.

“It’s still pretty confusing,” said Brumback. “Without a lot of specificity, we don’t know all the answers to all the questions at this point.”

To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Jen Cardines, email her at JCardines@SouthingtonObserver.com.

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