Legislative session begins: How do state issues affect Plainville residents?

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State Sen. Henri Martin (R), left, and State Rep. Dr. William Petit Jr. held a town hall meeting at the Municipal Center last Thursday to discuss the legislative session that started this week.

The Connecticut Conference of Municipalities released a comprehensive list of legislative proposals spanning topics such as the opioid epidemic, regional service sharing, and transportation infrastructure, which they hope will guide the state legislature during the spring session.

“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.”

For Plainville town manager, Robert Lee, two items in particular stand out—property tax rates and the cost of special education. Lee serves on property tax reform commission, and while the group’s report won’t be issued for several months, the town manager hopes that legislators and residents alike will be able to discuss the findings.

“We do have a great overreliance on the property tax and the way we fund certain services—especially education—and this is going to address a lot of that,” said Lee, who listed pension issues, school funding, and regional shared services amongst the covered topics.

“Those are areas that I believe this commission is going to provide some specific recommendations that hopefully will be taken seriously because in the past, at least up to now, a lot of it has been the can kicked down the road,” said the town manager.

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Special education services can be imagined as an umbrella with many student needs falling into the category such as English language services or accommodating testing needs. The State of Connecticut will reimburse districts for a portion (four and a half times the average per student cost) of their yearly special education costs, but Lee said that the reimbursements haven’t been funded in full.

One topic under the education umbrella will be the burden of proof regarding special education. Currently, it falls to school boards to prove a student can receive the proper accommodations in their home district rather than attending a different district.

“They’re not financing special education in the way they should be. They’re not financing excess special education the way they should be. The state only has enough money to go around, so they’re only reimbursing us about 70% of that [excess] cost,” said Lee. “They’re supposed to reimburse us for four-and-a-half times, but they don’t fund it, so guess who picks up that tab? The local property taxpayers.”

In the report synopsis released in January, CCM officials said they plan to address special education funding through actions such as requiring that special education funding follows the student until the end of the year if a student changes districts within that year, establishing a legislative task force to examine the potential regional opportunities for special education as well as the potential to increase the involvement of Regional Education Service Centers, and allowing a town to reduce their minimum budget requirement to reflect the associated costs once a student leaves the district.

“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.

At the moment, Lee said that he and the town would be happy as long as the funding that was promised in the first year of the budget remains as proposed—or at least isn’t reduced.

The State of Connecticut 2020 legislative session began this week on Wednesday, Feb. 5, and will conclude on Wednesday, May 6. To learn more about the list of initiatives being proposed by CCM, visit their website, www.ccm-ct.org.

To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Taylor Murchison-Gallagher, email her at News@PlainvilleObserver.com.