Legislature spares towns from cuts in state aid

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After state unions failed to approve $1.6 billion in concessions, the heads of local municipalities feared state aid to towns would be slashed.

“I’m keeping my tongue between my teeth here,” Prospect Mayor Robert Chatfield said prior to the June 30 legislative special session.

Gov. Dannel Malloy’s administration had previously released figures on how state aid to municipalities would be affected if the union deal didn’t go through. Under this worst-case scenario, Beacon Falls was estimated to lose about $1.5 million, Prospect would lose nearly $2 million, much of which would surely hit the Region 16 school district. Naugatuck would have seen nearly $11 million in cuts to state grants.

Leaders from Naugatuck, Prospect, and Beacon Falls said they had the ear of their state delegates as they prepared for the special session.

“Our delegation is all aware of the importance that every dime of state funding means to Naugatuck,” Naugatuck Mayor Robert Mezzo said.

Their voices were heard.

When legislators voted to give Malloy more authority over cutting budget, they stipulated that municipal aide could not be touched.

“Phew,” Chatfield said. “It’s a relief. We’ll be able to continue with the programs that we had planned during our budget deliberations.”

Beacon Falls First Selectman Susan Cable said the legislature’s move to limit the Governor’s ability to cut municipal aid is good for the town.

“We have a very extreme, tight budget as it is. It will definitely help us maintain what we have,” Cable said.

She said any cuts to municipal aid would ultimately impact local taxpayers because the towns would have to raise taxes to make up the difference.

Mezzo said he was still trying to determine the state budget’s impact as of last Friday.

“It looks as if the legislature is not willing to cut any funding from municipal aid which is good news for the 169 municipalities in Connecticut, including Naugatuck,” Mezzo said. “There still seems to be some uncertainty, however, as to what the ultimate solution will be in Hartford,” Mezzo said.

Mezzo said he was still awaiting confirmation that towns would be getting the extra revenue anticipated from tax hikes.

“We did not include [the new sources of revenue] because we assumed there was a connection between the acceptance of the concession package and those additional revenues,” Mezzo said. “Since the clock’s turned to the new fiscal year, I’m assuming the revenue portions of the state budget are in play.”

The net grant money for all three towns was originally set to go up this fiscal year. Naugatuck stands to gain about $410,000, Beacon Falls $60,000, and Prospect $89,000 from state grants.

Lawmakers are still hoping state employee unions will reach a new concessions deal by August 31. Malloy has until July 15 to submit a new budget plan to the General Assembly, after which legislatures may still modify or reject portions of the plan.

Mezzo said he doubted whether unions could still pull through a labor deal.

“I’m not optimistic that they’re going to accept the existing package,” Mezzo.