In Bloomfield, West Hartford, Wethersfield and especially the city of Hartford, the day of dread in municipal government may well be July 15, 2009. Why that day? We will explain and, boy, we hope we are wrong.
First, as day by day goes by without any true action by the state legislature on the state deficit, towns (and school boards) are going to have to guess as to what really comes down from the capitol. It just might be that mid-July could be that day, we finally know just how the state gets out of its mess, brought on by relying on the fools gold of the income tax. Atlas shrugged and the 70,000 taxpayers carrying 50% of the income tax bill just won't be paying the bill anymore. And if our legislators go after them for more - millionaire's tax - two clicks on the computer and away goes the rest of the cash to New Hampshire or Florida.
It seems to us that the mix of budget cuts, tax increases, fee increases, borrowing and Federal Aid will not cut the mustard and, that, when the time finally comes, the last pot of cash available will be the various forms of town (and school) aid. When the leadership makes the choice: reduce the size and scope of state government - dramatically - or make towns do the same. Who do you think comes out as the real loser? History shows us that state government protects its own.
The real problem we see however, especially in Hartford, will be the final accounting of those who will not, or cannot pay the July 1st tax bills. When those envelopes come back "no forwarding address" on those yellow stickers, towns will go into shock. How do you collect car taxes from ghosts? Even real property (land and buildings) taxes can't be collected, at least on time, from closed accounts and empty store fronts. Tax liens on abandoned buildings look good on paper but, months or even years from now they may not be salable. And, bills and bond payments must be paid by every town and city, on time. And time may run out about July 15th.
Again, we hope we are wrong. Maybe this early (we love it) spring will see improved attitudes, maybe the legislature will find the guts to tell it's union allies (bosses?) the truth. And if the stock market goes up the cash cow of Fairfield County may start to get milked again. Yes, pigs may fly and dogs might talk, anything is possible. But, our advice, seldom taken, is for our readers to plant a garden, maintain the old jalopy, and get ready to rely on your own efforts because the outcome of July 15th just might be the end of local government as we know it and have come to rely on it.