WETHERSFIELD - A look to statewide challenges level highlighted the Mayor’s Annual State of the Town Address this morning, as local and state officials recounted Wethersfield’s successes while bracing for anticipated deficit-driven hits to municipal aid.
“Probably the most difficult year we’ve ever experienced and we’ve said that the past three or four years,” said Senator John Fonfara.
Just a couple of weeks ago, the town got word that its Education Cost Sharing (ECS) grant for the current year would be reduced by $152,000 of the $9.5 million anticipated when local budgets were done this past Spring. That’s still an increase, but any negative change that comes midyear can throw already ratified budgets off, municipal officials have said.
But the silver lining cited throughout the Chamber of Commerce-hosted event-held in the Keeney Cultural Center dining room-was Wethersfield’s own fiscal health and economic activity, along with school district benchmarks that include state-recognized hikes in SBAC scores and the completion of an $85 million high school renovation project.
“This is the single largest public works project the town has ever done. It will be the largest thing we do until we do it again, 20 to 30 years from now,” said Town Manager Jeff Bridges of the high school. “It is a state of the art, 21st Century high school, and we’re very proud of it.”
And as for the state’s fiscal challenges, speakers were quick to share their thoughts on how to tackle them.
Mayor Paul Montinieri’s remarks pointed to what he described as a spirit of cooperation between public officials-of all parties and governing bodies-as well as town staff and the state delegation. The state’s issues, as well, will have to be resolved through collaboration, he said.
He’s been a proponent of working with Hartford to address its own $50 million deficit-short of diverting actual property tax revenue to the capitol city-saying that the economic failure of a municipality where 1 in 4 Wethersfield residents are employed would have a ripple impact at home and throughout the region.
He also sits on a committee of mayors from Hartford, Newington, Cromwell, and Rocky Hill for the purpose of finding opportunities for inter-municipal cost savings.
Bridges, who serves on a separate committee examining broader regional initiatives, said that he expects the coming legislative session to feature continued discussion in that regard.
He pointed to existing initiatives such as CIRMA, the Central Connecticut Health District, and the Metropolitan District Commission (MDC) as cost inter municipal cost saving arrangements.
Even the potential for member towns to pay more ad valorem tax under the MDC’s sewer cost structure-should Hartford fail to make its last two fiscal year payments-while a challenge, pales in comparison to the expenditures that would be associated to each municipality running their own system, Bridges said.
“When you talk about regionalism, we’re there. But what’s the next step? We’ll hear about it this session, but we need someone to define it,” Bridges said.
State Representative and Transportation Committee Chair Tony Guerrera marked his portion of the address with a renewed call for the pursuit of electronic tolling at the state’s borders, pointing to the weakening of the gasoline sales tax as a revenue generator as automobile manufacturing shifts to more fuel efficient or-increasingly-hybrid designs.
He said that he expects a bill to be voted on in the coming legislative session.