Simmons says state penalizes Stonington for responsible spending

Stonington — The news this week that Gov. Dannel Malloy's proposed state budget cuts all of the town’s almost $1.4 million in education aid is something that town officials have expected would someday happen as the state’s fiscal problems worsen.

In addition to the loss of the $1,378,842 in Education Cost Sharing grants, the town also lost $8,021 for adult education, $31,251 in Mashantucket Pequot-Mohegan aid and saw its $203,764 in funding for local capital improvement projects cut to $129,669. In total, state aid to the town under Malloy’s plan would decrease almost $1.5 million, from $2,020,069 to $527,011.

“This proposed budget is simply irresponsible. The governor and the legislature have known for several years that Connecticut is like the Titanic hitting the iceberg and what did they do?” First Selectman Rob Simmons said, pointing to the new deal with state labor unions, construction of the controversial busway from New Britain to Hartford and other spending he deems irresponsible.

“It wouldn’t be so bad if the governor and the legislature made some effort to address the structural and systemic problems in the state. But now they are looking desperately for more revenue. The ship is going down and they’re desperately running around looking for a life preserver here and a life preserver there,” said Simmons, a former state legislator and Congressman. “They continue to fail to address the structural problems that make the state expensive and inefficient.”

The town now faces an increase of about six-tenths of a mill in its upcoming 2018-19 budget simply due to the loss of state aid.

As members of the Board of Finance saw state aid decreasing in recent years, they warned there would be a time when there would be no state aid and began planning for it.

They and town officials have kept tax rates low, improved operations to save money and amassed an undesignated fund surplus of more than $11 million for emergencies. The surplus allowed the town to achieve a high bond rating that lowered borrowing costs for the $67 million elementary school project. And for years, the finance board has put aside portions of the money needed for projects such as the replacement of the police radio system, revaluation, road and bridge work and the eventual replacement of the artificial turf field, so those expensive projects would not have to be funded all in one year, which would have created havoc with the budget.

“The towns that have done everything right are getting the shaft. The towns and cities that have done everything wrong are getting the benefits,” said Simmons, adding that multiple Stonington administrations, both Republican and Democrat, have been responsible with spending.

Superintendent of Schools Van Riley declined to comment this week on the impact of the education cut, saying school officials have not yet had time to analyze it. He also pointed out the budget is not finalized and could be changed by the legislature.  

j.wojtas@theday.com 

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