City planning chairman 'shocked' by decision to pull out of COG

Day Staff Writer

New London - The head of the Planning and Zoning Commission said Friday he was shocked to learn the city is planning to pull out of the regional Council of Governments, which over the years has funneled millions in grants to the city to improve its infrastructure.

"I was surprised the letter would have been sent without staff input,'' Chairman Mark Christansen said Friday about a brief letter the mayor sent to the Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments on Monday, in which he said the city did not have the $15,000 dues to remain a member.

"Actually, surprised is an understatement. I was shocked,'' Christensen said. "We were blindsided."

City Planner Harry Smith and Economic Development Coordinator Ned Hammond were not consulted before the mayor sent the letter to COG, Christensen said.

The Planning Commission unanimously agreed Thursday to send a letter to Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio to "request the dues be paid immediately to avoid any break in benefits that we have."

"The Planning & Zoning Commission feels strongly that the benefits of COG are important to the future of the city of New London. It's their ability to get funding sources that helps take the burden off our taxpayers," Christensen said.

According to information compiled by COG Executive Director James Butler, over the next three years the agency expects to bring more than $53 million to the region for transportation improvements.

In New London, recent projects that have been funded by COG grants include $6.5 million for The Parade Plaza project; $1.7 million for the first phase of the Montauk Avenue rehabilitation project; and $750,000 for a regional intermodal transportation center master plan and study.

At the next City Council meeting on Aug. 6, Finizio will request a "line-item transfer" from the council to pay the membership dues, his executive assistant Zak Leavy said Friday.

"We understand the importance of being a member of COG to our City but due to the lack of funding, we had to end our membership,'' Leavy said in an email requesting comment. "We are hopeful that the Council will approve a line-item transfer and we can continue being a member of COG."

Finizio had told Butler that the City Council removed the funding during the budget process.

"I am unable to legally authorize payment without Council approval. I hope New London's withdrawal of membership is not seen as an unwillingness to work with the region on matters that concern all,'' Finizio wrote.

But some councilors remembered the budget discussions differently, saying the line item was transferred from the City Council budget to the mayor's budget with the understanding the dues would be paid.

Council President Michael Passero said the issue will be discussed at the Aug. 6 meeting.

"In short, I do not anticipate any interruption in the city's membership of SCCOG,'' Passero wrote in a letter to Butler.

k.edgecomb@theday.com

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