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Municipal Leaders Urge General Assembly To Maintain Local Aid

By DON STACOM

March 03, 2010

HARTFORD

Property owners throughout the state can expect tax increases this year as cash-strapped towns and cities run out of one-time solutions to their fiscal problems, municipal leaders told a state legislative committee Tuesday.

As part of their annual plea to maintain state aid and roll back costly mandates, mayors and first selectmen warned lawmakers that municipal governments can't absorb more financial pressure.

"Last year I cut 20 positions. This year I cut five more," East Hartford Mayor Melody Currey told the General Assembly's appropriations committee. "I have employees who made less this year than the year before ... but we're talking about a 9.2 percent tax increase now."

Currey was part of a team of town and city leaders who asked legislators to protect municipal aid, block new mandates and authorize new local taxes on such things as hotel rooms, meals or local sales, to help communities get through the recession. Even with savings from union concessions, staff reductions and service cutbacks last year, municipalities suffered bad times and are going through worse ones now, Currey said.

The warnings got a mixed reception. Sen. Toni Harp, a Democrat from New Haven, called the idea of a 9.2 percent local tax increase, as Currey suggested, "extraordinary," and said that Connecticut would never consider raising any of its tax rates that steeply.

Harp suggested that the state might be doing a disservice to communities. Connecticut keeps its own taxes artificially lower, but gradually starves local governments by chipping away at school grants, road repair aid and other local funding.

"Our not raising taxes is actually requiring you with less efficiency to raise taxes even more," Harp told representatives from the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities and the Connecticut Council of Small Towns.

Republican Rep. Craig Miner of Litchfield offered a different view: The state will have to get stingier with municipalities, he cautioned.

"We've given away all our rainy day money," Miner said. "I don't see how we get through the next [budget] cycle without revisiting state aid to municipalities."

Advocates for municipalities praised the heavily Democratic General Assembly for rebuffing Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell's midyear recommendation for aid reductions, but said that communities suffer even if state aid is kept level.

"In the town of Portland's case, as I suspect in most other towns, this will mean even more cuts in services and increases in taxes," said Susan Bransfield, Portland's first selectwoman and president of the Connecticut Council of Small Towns.

Rell has proposed $2.79 billion in aid to towns and cities for 2010-11; the overwhelming majority of that total consists of grants to local schools

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.
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