WATERBURY — A proposed consolidation of the state’s regional planning organizations could result in Naugatuck abandoning the Council of Governments of the Central Naugatuck Valley and joining a group in the southwestern part of the state.
As a bill makes its way through the General Assembly that would eliminate more than half of the state’s 14 regional planning organizations, towns and cities are asking for a say in how they’re reorganized.
“I think we have to be careful that the legislation doesn’t essentially eviscerate the Waterbury area,” said Peter Dorpalen, executive director of the Council of Governments of the Central Naugatuck Valley.
Placement in an appropriate regional planning organization is important for municipalities because it can dictate how much funding they receive for local projects.
If the Waterbury-based Council of Governments of the Central Naugatuck Valley is extended west to include the Danbury region, as some have proposed, it would limit Naugatuck’s ability to lobby for funding for the Route 8 corridor, including the Waterbury branch of the Metro-North Railroad, Mayor Bob Mezzo said.
“We have no desire to be the southern end of a Litchfield County or Danbury-based region,” Mezzo said.
Mezzo would like to stay connected to Waterbury, but he believes Naugatuck is more aligned with the southern part of the state, where many Naugatuck residents commute.
He believes Naugatuck should be in a regional planning organization that includes the lower Naugatuck Valley and Greater Bridgeport — whether that organization includes Waterbury or not.
“There’s other activity happening south that has a lot more relevance to where we sit than maybe those towns to the north or west of us,” Mezzo said.
The Council of Governments of the Central Naugatuck Valley is composed of Waterbury, Naugatuck, Bethlehem, Woodbury, Southbury, Thomaston, Watertown, Middlebury, Oxford, Wolcott, Prospect, Beacon Falls and Cheshire. The Valley Council of Governments contains just four communities: Shelton, Seymour, Ansonia and Derby.
Rick Dunne, executive director of the Valley Council of Governments, said a merger of the valley towns with the Greater Bridgeport region and the Central Naugatuck Valley would be beneficial.
“It provides a greater benefit to the towns to be larger, to bring together all the resources of the Waterbury and Bridgeport regions as one,” Dunne said. “That region becomes as large and as powerful as the Capitol Region or South Central, which includes the New Haven region, and it puts the dollars in the hands of those chief elected officials.”
The state wants to reduce the number of regional planning organizations from the current 14 to about five or six. It’s offering funding incentives for planning organizations that grow.
If the Council of Governments of the Central Naugatuck Valley combined with the Danbury-based Housatonic Valley Council of Elected Officials, it would have a population of 512,384 and receive $48,902 funding per town in 2015 — compared with $24,294 per town if the organization stayed the same.
The state plans to force regional planning organizations to consolidate by Jan. 1, 2015 based on recommendations of the Office of Policy Management. If groups decide to merge on their own before then, they will be exempt from the state mandate.
Some elected officials oppose consolidation entirely.
Prospect Mayor Bob Chatfield said he wants to keep the Council of Governments of the Central Naugatuck Valley intact.
“As far as I’m concerned, Waterbury is the hub of the Central Naugatuck Valley,” Chatfield said. “Waterbury is the core city and I don’t want to see us broken up.”
But if the state requires regional planning organizations to consolidate, he said, towns and cities should be able to choose where they go.
“If it’s going to have to change, I think councils of governments should choose their own destiny,” Chatfield said.