In general, local government leaders found few surprises in Gov. Ned Lamont’s mid-year budget adjustments, with the three largest cities expecting gains in state money and other communities seeing minor changes or steady grant packages.
The Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, a statewide local advocacy group, reviews the details of the state’s mid-term budget, unveiled Wednesday but praised Lamont for keeping state funding obligations to cities and towns.
“The proposed budget gives consistency to those who rely on it the most — municipal and town leaders, as well as property tax-paying households and businesses,” CCM officials wrote. “Towns and cities must continue to have a voice at the table with the governor and state lawmakers this session to secure proper levels of state aid for municipalities, combat unfunded state mandates, and encourage regional service sharing,” says the governor.
Overall, state grant totals would grow in New London, Groton, and Norwich, owing primarily to increased education grants.
The governor’s proposal for the fiscal year 2020-21 is in line with previous forecasts for New London and provides “fiscal stability,” according to Mayor Michael Passero.
New London’s grant total would rise from $37.3 million this year to $38.4 million next year, thanks to a $1.09 million increase in the Educational Cost Sharing grant, which would be increased to $28.6 million. Although the raise is $140,131 less than planned last year, Passero described it as necessary and appreciated.
The city will continue to receive $311,720 in Local Capital Improvements Program monies, $1.6 million in Pequot-Mohegan grant funds, and $5 million in tax-exempt property payments instead of taxes.
“There hasn’t been much change. It’s reassuring to hear that the governor’s yearly budget is holding up and that there is some fiscal stability,” Passero added. “A lot can be said about the budgetary stability this demonstrates. I don’t think we’ll have to make as many compromises as we did in the past (under previous administrations).”
According to Groton Town Manager John Burt, the governor’s proposed budget looks promising for his town, with overall aid set to rise by $301,294 to $30,146,520 in 2020-21.
“Seeing Gov. Lamont’s proposed budget is a lot better than the state cuts the town faced a couple of years ago,” Burt added. “Any increased state assistance aids in keeping our local property taxes low.”
Due to Groton’s status as an Alliance District, the ECS grant remained stable at around $25 million, according to Superintendent Michael Graner. The ECS grant covers nearly a third of the educational budget in the town.
“The Education Cost Sharing funding will not be reduced as long as Groton is an Alliance District,” Graner stated.
Funds from the Alliance District must be used on state-approved school district upgrades. According to Graner, the school district has submitted a proposal to the state for this year’s $600,000 Alliance District award, and a new planned $300,000 grant for next year for items such as a social worker, additional books, tutors, and instructional technology.
Norwich, like New London, is an Alliance District, and its state funding would increase by $1,239,760, almost entirely due to the $1.22 million increase in the ECS award.
Because the district’s tax rate exceeds the state’s maximum, the central city-paid fire district is scheduled to collect $702,992 in reimbursement for motor vehicle property taxes. According to city Comptroller Josh Pothier, the city received $820,000 in the motor vehicle grant this year. According to him, the decrease next year could be due to an increase in the grand list tax base.
“From what I’ve seen so far, Gov. Lamont’s proposed budget for Norwich contains no big adjustments,” Pothier said. “CCM is currently reviewing the budget and related bills as they become available.” It’s possible that we won’t have a full picture until early next week.”
While most municipal aid payments remained unchanged, certain small communities witnessed minor modifications to their ECS grants for the next year. Ledyard lost approximately $110,000 in ECS money; East Lyme lost $183,365 in ECS money; North Stonington lost $75,212 in ECS money; and Stonington lost $115,427 in ECS money. Montville will receive an additional $88,382 from the ECS.
Preston would be out $36,525 in ECS, and $3,273 in adult education grant money. According to First Selectwoman Sandra Allyn-Gauthier, no other modifications to the town’s funding are being sought.
“No one likes to hear that the amount they receive is decreasing,” Allyn-Gauthier said, “and we’re working with (the state Office of Policy and Management) to figure out what the criteria and methodology are for ECS. In 2021 to see why we’ve been impacted.”
Preston and other members of the Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments, she said, have been pressuring local state legislators for state financial stability and predictability and will continue to do so.
All cities and towns are also hoping but worried that the state would enact the long-awaited 2019 bonding package, which contains $60 million in state subsidies for municipalities, including Town Aid Road money, Local Capital Improvements grants, and Municipal Revenue Sharing grants.
Legislators and the Lamont administration have been debating whether or not to add tolls to some state highways and bridges, which has caused the package to be delayed. Since last summer, most Bond Commission meetings have been canceled due to a lack of agreement on a transportation plan.
Preston’s request for a $7 million state subsidy to finish the cleanup of the former Norwich Hospital property so the town can turn it over to Mohegan Gaming & Entertainment has been delayed.
According to state Rep. Mike France, R-Ledyard, the Lamont administration should separate the two problems and enable the assembly to vote on municipal aid funds. The first payment to the towns was supposed to be made in September, followed by a second payment in early March.
“It will be held up as long as it is related to tolls,” France said of the local grants. “I’m hoping the governor will keep the two topics apart, and I’m afraid the bonding law will be held up unless the governor agrees to separate the two concerns.”
State Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, a co-chairwoman of the General Assembly’s Appropriations Committee, said the state bond package is in the works, and state officials have filed it, along with all municipal grants and Preston’s $7 million requests. She said the Bond Commission meeting has yet to be scheduled, just as the legislature has yet to vote on the package.