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Municipal Leaders Hear Message: 'Regionalize'

Cited As Way To Cut Costs During Bleak Financial Times

Don Stacom

October 11, 2010

With a bleak financial outlook ahead, municipalities should cut costs by regionalizing more government services, a former Manchester mayor told city and town leaders this week.

"We have 169 principalities, each with a king, each with a royal court," Stephen Cassano said at the annual Connecticut Conference of Municipalities convention. "We have close to 169 superintendents and planners. We have to have more cost-sharing."

As president of the National Association of Regional Councils, a group that promotes regionalized services, Cassano made a pitch to mayors and first selectmen this week to increase their efforts to save money by sharing special services, buildings and even heavy equipment.

In recent years, legislators and Gov. M. Jodi Rell's administration have pressed towns and cities to create regional health agencies, emergency dispatch centers, even dog pounds instead of maintaining separate operations for each community.

State leaders have stopped short of recommending that Connecticut's long-established towns begin merging, and House Speaker Chris Donovan's panel on regionalism recently concluded that most towns and cities are already cutting expenses through collaborative operations.

Even so, Connecticut's budget crisis requires even more, Cassano said.

"Nobody is saying you have to, but we all know that economically we need to," Cassano told several dozen municipal leaders at the convention.

"The state budget is in absolute crisis," said Rep. Brendan Sharkey, chairman of Donovan's panel on regionalism. "I realize it's hard for people to fully get their heads around how bad it is. There's $3.5 billion in deficit for each of the next two-and-a-half to three fiscal years."

Mansfield Town Manager Matthew Hart told the convention audience that his community already operates with more than a half-dozen regional or shared services, including its code enforcement work, municipal development, sewage treatment and policing operations. It shares public works equipment, information technology and software with Coventry, and Mansfield's town government and schools share finance, computer and insurance staff along with building and ground maintenance.

The high school, probate court, emergency management system and health department are all regional, and Mansfield is part of the Windham Transit District and the Windham regional governments council.The town is looking to initiate other cooperative arrangements, Hart said.

"With the economic downturn, we're under pretty acute financial stress," he said.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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