Readers curious about how government spends money

In January, The Day launched CuriousCT, an initiative in which readers submit questions, the newsroom groups them into themed voting rounds, and readers vote on which questions they want us to answer.

Since then, reporters have used the tool to produce more than 20 articles, and the project has aided their understanding of what readers care about.

Through those stories, reporters explained why Connecticut electricity prices are so high, what happened to the fish mural on Niantic Center School, the boundaries of Mystic, the reason for two libraries in the region sharing the Bill name, why “ATTRACTIONS” signs on I-95 were blank for so long, and more.

The first CuriousCT article corrected the misconception that state lottery proceeds go directly to supporting education. Rather — after paying prize money, commissions to lottery-ticket sellers, operating expenses and contributions to problem-gaming programs — the money goes into the General Fund.

While this was not about taxes, it fit with a theme among questions: Many readers wanted to know how the state and municipalities were spending their money.

One reader question explored in the project was, “How much money has Connecticut received yearly since 1991 from income, sales, fuel, cigarette and other taxes? How much did it spend on salaries, pensions, funds given to towns, infrastructure, etc.?”

Another was, “I would like to know how current levels of school spending break down between facilities, teachers, admin and special ed programs, for each existing school district.”

One reader sought more transparency in New London’s blight enforcement, asking for reports, fines, active cases and more. What followed was an article noting multiple instances in which the city didn’t provide information The Day sought, and then an op-ed from the question-asker who remained upset with the lack of answers.

Then, the city allowed The Day to review stacks of folders containing blight notices and responses, which showed that New London hadn’t handed out any blight-related fines in at least a year.

One takeaway from CuriousCT is that many readers are interested in knowing what’s happening with vacant buildings in the region.

Without putting these questions in voting rounds, reporters wrote about the Bulkeley House in New London, former Tim Hortons in Pawcatuck, an abandoned drive-in movie theater in Montville, blighted properties on Poquonnock Road in Groton, a building off Exit 75 of I-95 in East Lyme and more.

CuriousCT will continue into 2020. Send your questions to www.theday.com/curiousct.

What Readers Have Said

“Very interesting history. The CuriousCT concept is generating good stories.”

— comment on article, “Bill libraries in Groton, Ledyard united by family history”

“This is a great series. Thanks for offering it! Lots of people have wondered about these things”

— comment on article, “What’s the Deal with That Place?”  

“Awesome reporting ... Thanks for taking the time to tell keep us informed on local items, and not always politics. I also went back and read Part 1, which I had missed. Thanks!”

— comment on article, “What’s the deal with that place? (Part 2)”

“This is one of the most balanced, informative, accurate fiscal news reports I have ever seen.”

— email about the article, “Examining 27 years of taxes and spending”

“Thank you for the extremely informative and very understandable article today about education costs. I’m sure many parents will find it useful as it is very difficult to get that kind of information in a manner this clear.”

— email about the article, “How does school spending break down?”

 “ John (Ruddy) ... thank-you for polishing a neglected gem through your writing, and thank-you, Editorial Staff of The Day for going along and encouraging this sort of journalism.”

— comment on article, “The rise and fall of the Capitol Theater”

“Thorough and well researched article by Ben Kail. Thanks, Ben for your comprehensive look at this vital part of our lives.”

— comment on article, “Bins to bales: Recycling ‘still working’ despite fiscal stress”

“What great timing for this article! We were driving home to New London from TF Green yesterday afternoon and were astounded and confused by all the blank signs.”

— comment on article, “What’s with the blank ‘ATTRACTIONS’ signs on I-95?”

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