Groton to state lawmakers: Cut punishes our town

Hartford — The $14.17 million state aid cut to Groton proposed as part of Gov. Dannel Malloy's budget would force a massive tax increase, damage the public schools and effectively punish the community for hosting a military base, town leaders told the Appropriations Committee at a hearing on Tuesday.

“With the biggest (dollar amount) cut of any municipality in the state, it seems the governor is turning his back on everyone in Groton, not only its citizens but also its economically important military community,” Town Mayor Bruce Flax said.

“Groton is a town with a significant portion of its residents with low income, high unemployment and high rate of poverty,” Groton Schools Superintendent Michael Graner said. “Any formula that concludes Groton is an affluent town that can afford huge tax increases is simply wrong.”

The governor’s formula calculated wealth among students based on the number of children enrolled in the Husky plan, a state health insurance plan for low-income families. But 1,092 of the 4,872 students enrolled in Groton Public Schools are the children of military dependents and ineligible for Husky, Graner said. About 500 military-dependent children in Groton receive free or reduced-price lunch due to low incomes, but were not counted in the state formula because they receive military insurance, he said.

Flax said, "I would argue that the Groton taxpayer has been unfairly subsidizing the cost of educating Navy-dependent children for the region and the state as a whole. The proposed (state education aid) formula penalizes the community even further."

State Rep. Christine Conley, D-Groton, said the town would not be able to function with the cut proposed. "Cuts of this size cannot be absorbed within a fiscal year and would require a substantial change in education of our children or a 23 percent tax increase on residents," she said.

That would hurt businesses as well as residents, she said. "Electric Boat is hiring 4,000 employees over the next few years and building a $1.5 billion facility," she said. "A tax increase of 23 percent could hamper Electric Boat's expansion planning."

Groton Town Councilor Bonnie Nault told the legislators she and her husband both retired from the Navy and have lived in the town three different times.

“We, like many of our friends, were not from Connecticut but chose to retire here after our career with the Navy was over,” she said. “We both have second careers and pay taxes to Connecticut on that income.”

The Naval Submarine Base benefits the entire state, yet Groton is unfairly punished by not being able to collect its fair share from the Department of Defense to educate children from military families, she said. Given this, the state should provide Groton a special exception when calculating education funding, she said.

Nault, a Realtor, also said median home prices show the town is not affluent. “The median sales price in Greenwich is $1.7 million and in Groton it is $210,000. We have many working poor in this town,” she said.

State Rep. Joseph de la Cruz said the governor’s formula doesn’t take into account how individual towns function. De la Cruz said he pays more than the town tax rate of 21.73 mills. He also pays a fire district tax and an additional tax, which brings his total tax rate up to 28.89 mills, he said.

Superintendent Graner told legislators there's an urgency to the debate.

"The Groton Board of Education must approve the (fiscal year 2018) budget by next week and the town must approve the (fiscal year 2018) budget within two and a half months," he said. "I would request that the legislature table this portion of the governor's budget and maintain the current level of funding until such time (as) a new, fair formula and phase-in schedule are developed."

d.straszheim@theday.com

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