In a year when most municipalities are canceling big-ticket equipment purchases, Gov. M. Jodi Rell is offering to help pay their bills.
But there's a condition: Towns have to share whatever they buy.
The governor's new budget plan includes $10 million to help buy steamrollers, backhoes or similar equipment as long as several neighboring communities agree to share.
Another $40 million is set aside for building dog pounds, public works garages, emergency communications centers or other facilities, but again only if they're used to convert a single town's service into a regional operation.
Rell's administration sees the financial crisis as an opportunity to promote regionalism, a concept that historically hits deep resistance from home rule advocates in Connecticut's 169 towns and cities.
"We're in favor of voluntary financial incentives. Regional partnerships are nothing new — towns on their own have been doing this for 25 years," said Bart Russell, executive director of the Connecticut Council of Small Towns. "But the top-down approach, with the state making the decisions, that's what people oppose."
Rell proposes severely cutting back the number of probate courts next year, saying it's a simple way to save money.
Ralph Eno, first selectman of Lyme, sees it differently.
"My town pays $750 a year for its probate court. If you make it part of a mass consolidation with a big court, I can guarantee you Lyme will be asked to give more than $750," Eno said. "And we'll lose the convenience of a small local court where the judge knows the people. Regionalization for regionalization's sake is not a panacea."
But in presentations to the General Assembly this winter, Simsbury First Selectman Mary Glassman has repeatedly said that traditional opposition is collapsing. Her recession-battered community is examining ways to share emergency dispatch services with other Farmington Valley towns, and she said the possibility of establishing regional labor contracts with municipal unions is more palatable than it was years ago.
"We know something has to change," Glassman said.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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