Local, State Leaders Rally in South Windsor Against ECS Cuts
NEWINGTON - On the day House Democrats released a budget proposal that would greatly mitigate municipal aid cuts, South Windsor hosted a gathering of state and local leaders for what was a call for action on the part of the state legislature to reach a consensus on the budget and avert an executive order that would slash all education grant funding for 85 towns.

       Mayor Roy Zartarian was among the speakers who traveled to South Windsor at the invitation of Mayor Carolyn Mirek.

       Last week, Zartarian characterized the proposed cuts to Newington-$11.6 million in ECS funding-as “nothing short of devastating”, and he reiterated that sentiment at the rally. Newington would lose over $15 million in state aid overall if a budget is not passed by October-a scenario Zartarian says would force the town to drain its $13 million in reserves.

       “If we wanna absorb that loss, this is what we’re gonna have to do,” he said. “We’re gonna have to eliminate public library. All of our public works operations. Close down the public safety operations-that’ll total 15 million dollars. Or, we can empty our cash reserves, come up with another $2 million, and kiss our safety net and credit rating goodbye.”

       The latter scenario-while probably the more likely of the two-has its consequences in the form of impact to the town’s bond rating. Zartarian said that it’s too early to predict how the loss in state aid would affect the town’s planning for a Town Hall renovation financing, but a strong credit rating for bonding usually requires a reserve balance of at least 10 percent of the budget.

       “It [draining the reserve] wouldn’t even cover the entire loss of state aid,” he said.

       Newington’s situation is not unique-school and town officials from South Windsor, Ellington, Bolton, Glastonbury and Tolland cited structural changes, budget cutbacks, and staff reductions preceding last Friday’s announcement, expressing frustration over the fact that they still face the potential an even greater financial hit.

       “We’re not here for a South Windsor problem, or an Ellington problem, we’re here so the Governor and legislature realize the situation we’re all in,” said Dan Keune of the Ellington Board of Education.

       The legislature has been working out differences of opinion regarding issues such as a proposed sales tax increase-seen as a potential remedy in the event that towns are handed a portion of teacher pension costs, another sticking point between Malloy and members of the General Assembly.

       Speakers expressed cautious optimism regarding the House Democratic plan, while awaiting the next day’s release of a proposal from their Republican counterparts.

       For Newington, the loss in state aid from Fiscal Year 2017 to 2018 is only just over $950,000 under the House Democrats’ proposal, while ECS would land around $13.1 million.

       “We’ve seen many proposals. They mean nothing until the vote passes,” Mirek said. “These delays are inexcusable, and cause needless panic amongst teachers, students, and parents, and everyone who cares about providing quality education.”