1933 act bakes in Groton inefficiency, high costs

Thanks to The Day’s editorial board for encouraging communities to “Pick up the pace on regionalization” published on June 6. It’s nice to know that towns are collaborating with each other on regionalization. Also encouraging is the 2018 Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments (SCCOG) report that “identified many areas that might be regionalized.”

Unless, that is, you live in Groton, where a 1933 special act of the legislature established what amounts to regionalization-in-reverse — multiple service providers in the same town. The effect of that 86-year-old legislation today is to inflict a $1 million a year duplication cost on town taxpayers. It all has to do with highway maintenance.

The Town of Groton’s Public Works Department is responsible for maintaining 95 miles of roads and does it for $31,970 per mile. This number includes wages, salaries and benefits, including benefits paid to retirees. The City of Groton, a political subdivision, by virtue of that 1933 act also has a Public Works Department that it uses to maintain the 28.32 miles of town roads that are in the city. Following the rules laid out in 1933, for the 12 months starting July 1, the town will pay the city 2.2 times its rate for the city to maintain those 28 miles of roads, or $70,621 per mile, for a total of $1,999,982.

Had the town paid the city at its highway maintenance rate of $31,970 per mile, the savings for the coming year would be $1,094,592, thus the million dollar annual duplication cost to town taxpayers resulting from actions passed by the state legislature 86 years ago.

The same 1933 act also has an astounding effect on Groton’s financial watch dog body, the 41-member Representative Town Meeting (RTM). Those members have been told during their annual budget sessions that they must vote to approve the Town Council’s annual highway maintenance allocation to the city with no changes up or down. In effect, for that budget item, the 1933 special act says that the RTM doesn’t exist. But since in 2019 it actually does, through some convoluted logic, it has to vote “yes” on the Town Council’s number.

Since I served in town government in 2013, the duplication cost of the 1933 special act has been addressed by three Town Councils/RTMs, two town managers, various town and city attorneys, a deputy commissioner of the State Department of Transportation, a formal mediation activity and a nine-month, $35,000 study that was completed last March by consultants from Ohio. (Not to pile-on but that $35,000 study was preceded by several others dating back to the 1990s.)

Last I heard, the town and the city were “having discussions to have discussions” to address implementation of the cost saving recommendations from the experts in Ohio.

Simply put, the 1933 special act is the foundation for misappropriating a million tax dollars a year. This will continue as long as that act remains in effect. It has corrupted the voting integrity of our Representative Town Meeting.

Governor Lamont, I hope you’re listening. I’m asking you to help promote regionalization within our town. Please call for that 86-year-old special act to be sun-setted. We’re facing a potential budget hit for teacher pensions and Groton is currently embarking on a multi-million dollar school building project.

Governor, help!

Robert K. Frink lives in Groton.

 

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