Connecticut Conference of Municipalities discusses state issues with local officials

Groton — Tolls, marijuana, sports betting, efforts to force regionalism and other "high-profile issues" are taking attention away from the "single most important issue facing the state of Connecticut and its taxpayers": the state's pension crisis, the director of the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities told local officials on Thursday.   

Executive Director Joe DeLong said the organization, which represents the state's 169 municipalities, is encouraging action toward fixing the state's pension crisis, an issue he said will hold Connecticut back from rebounding from the recession and keep municipal budgets in flux for years until it's fixed. 

"That’s something that we continue as an organization as best we can to promote and to highlight and to ask municipal leaders to talk to their elected officials about," DeLong said, "because volatility and uncertainty and inability to climb out of the recession at the pace the rest of the country is climbing out of the recession will continue if we do not systemically address, in some degree, OPEB liabilities, as well, but the pension crisis we have in Connecticut — and that has to be done through real reform."

DeLong and other CCM representatives spoke with more than a dozen local officials, including from Groton, Ledyard, New London, North Stonington, Norwich, Preston, Old Saybrook and Salem, during a roundtable discussion Thursday morning at the Groton Town Hall Annex.

CCM is holding the series of meetings for "Municipal Unity Week" to show that when it comes to addressing Connecticut's issues, "we're all in this together" and the state, towns, unions and businesses aren't against one another, DeLong said. The meetings also are an opportunity to get the perspectives of towns and cities and thank them, as CCM now represents all 169 municipalities in Connecticut.

Meetings were held in communities, including Norwalk, Torrington, Hamden and Glastonbury, according to a news release, and provided updates on the 2019 legislative session and proposals on topics including shared services, the minimum budget requirement, special education and teachers' retirements.

DeLong updated the local officials on the work CCM is doing "behind the scenes" on issues affecting municipalities. He said he expects that CCM board members, who are municipal leaders from across the state, soon will meet with Gov. Ned Lamont about trying to put together a potential reform package that would help stabilize local budgets and create growth and move in "a direction of reforming teachers' retirement (benefits) that isn’t just a straight cost shift."

The governor has proposed shifting part of the teachers pension costs to municipalities, but DeLong said the solution can't simply be to take a system that is unsustainable and move it out of the income tax and into the property tax. Instead, it should be part of a greater reform package, and municipalities want to work with the state on a more sustainable solution, he said.

During the discussion, Salem First Selectman Kevin Lyden spoke in support of towns sharing more services in the future, such as public works, school administration and tax collecting. He said there are a lot of barriers and resistance to sharing services, "but this is the reality."

James S. Butler, executive director of the Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments, also discussed shared services and mentioned that the council completed a study a little more than a year ago that evaluated shared services taking place in the region and recommended future opportunities for sharing services. He said the council would like to bid revaluation services on a regional basis in the hopes of receiving proposals at a lower rate per parcel, but has not yet been able to get that initiative off the ground.

He said the region already does a lot to share services, and there's more to be done but the region already has done the easy initiatives. He encouraged the state to provide more incentives to share services.

k.drelich@theday.com

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