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EXCLUSIVE: Small Towns Leader: Budget Impasse “Penalizing” Towns Trying “To Do Everything Right”

October 19, 2017 By Staff
EXCLUSIVE: Small Towns Leader: Budget Impasse “Penalizing” Towns Trying “To Do Everything Right”

Betsy Gara talked to Reclaim Connecticut about Malloy's budget proposal, the budget that passed (and Malloy vetoed), and the recent Moody's report on Connecticut municipalities.

“What’s very frustrating is this is penalizing towns that have tried to do everything right.”

This is how Betsy Gara, the executive director of the Connecticut Council of Small Towns (COST), summed up the nearly-four-month budget impasse.

Many towns, Gara argued, have kept a “healthy fund balance, to move forward with needed infrastructure projects, to maintain roads and bridges.” Now, she said, “they’re finding out that this [impasse] is going to cost them money.”

Reclaim Connecticut talked to Gara about the impasse, the latest budget proposal from Gov. Dan Malloy (D-Conn.), and more this week.

NOTE: This conversation took place before legislative leaders announced a tentative deal on a bipartisan budget on Wednesday.

MALLOY’S BUDGET

Malloy issued his fourth budget proposal this week. Gara said that while COST “appreciate[s] the effort to move the budget negotiations along,” they “feel that the governor’s revised budget falls short.”

“It creates some problems relative to changes in the ECS formula that will penalize a number of communities,” Gara added. “But the most significant problem is that it continues to shift millions of dollars in teachers’ pension cost to municipalities.”

Initial reports from the bipartisan budget announced Wednesday indicate Malloy’s teachers’ pension proposal is not in the agreement.

THE GOP BUDGET

While Gara refused to call the budget that passed a “GOP” or “bipartisan budget,” she did say COST felt the passed budget “was a good alternative to help put towns on a solid financial footing.”

“Unfortunately,” she added, “the budget was vetoed and now we find ourselves again looking at a budget impasse.”

MOODY’S

Reclaim Connecticut also discussed with COST the recent bombshell Moody’s report that more than 50 Connecticut cities and towns are facing downgrades or a “negative” outlook.

“It’s a real problem right now,” Gara said. “Anything that is going to add costs on a local level is going to impose difficulties not only for property taxpayers but also in terms of infrastructure.”

“If the rating does go down,” Gara added, “the town’s borrowing costs are going to go up.”

PROPERTY TAXES

As Reclaim Connecticut pointed out, Moody’s said a ‘positive’ aspect for towns is that they can raise property taxes by unlimited amount. Asked about that note, Gara said towns “absolutely” do not want to raise property taxes.

“Any additional tax increases will be met with frustration by property taxpayers,” Gara said. “Property taxpayers are already voicing concerns about increases in taxes. Town leaders are hearing every day from taxpayers who just can’t afford any additional increase.”

Keep up with COST’s activity and their reactions to the budget process at ctcost.org.