Consolidation of planning organizations coming to a head
After more than five decades together the 13 towns that make up the Council of Governments of the Central Naugatuck Valley could go their separate ways.
The state is in the process of consolidating its 14 regional planning agencies, known as the Councils of Governments, by about half. The catalyst for the change comes from a bill the state’s House of Representatives passed in June.
Currently Naugatuck, Beacon Falls and Prospect all belong to the Council of Governments of the Central Naugatuck Valley, which is centered around Waterbury.
The state has given local municipalities the opportunity to have some say when it comes to their future.
Naugatuck Mayor Robert Mezzo stated during the December Board of Mayor and Burgess meeting that he believes the economic future of the borough lies to the south, along the Route 8 corridor.
Mezzo said he has been working to ensure that the Valley Council of Governments, which is made up of Shelton, Seymour, Ansonia and Derby, is absorbed into whichever COG that Naugatuck ends up with.
“Regardless of what happens Naugatuck will always have a historical and economic relationship with the City of Waterbury, but I think the importance of having those 135,000 people from Naugatuck to Shelton, along the rail line, along the highway, along the river, is important for us on many levels. And regardless of which city or cities that anchor the new regions that are created, I think it’s important that those seven towns become united,” Mezzo said.
This combination of towns was so important to Mezzo that he and Oxford First Selectman George Temple co-signed a letter to the Office of Policy Management, which has the final say of what the newly formed districts will look like, stating that all the Valley towns should be united.
Mezzo was concerned that communities to the north of Waterbury, which are currently not part of the Council of Governments of the Central Naugatuck Valley, will be joining with Waterbury, which would pull the focus further away from the lower valley towns.
Mezzo said that he would try to keep the valley towns together even at the expense of being consolidated into a different group than Waterbury.
“My personal thought is we are never going to abandon a relationship with Waterbury on a variety of levels. We will continue to have mutual aid. We will continue to have economic development initiatives. Those won’t end,” Mezzo said.
Mezzo feels much of the economic development opportunities for the borough are coming from the south.
“The majority of the economic activity that we need to tap into is, quite frankly, coming up Route 8. Unfortunately right now we are divided in terms of the critical infrastructure necessary to get that commerce here,” Mezzo said.
Prospect Mayor Robert Chatfield, whose town shares a significant border with Waterbury, does not consider itself to be a Valley town.
Chatfield said he would prefer to remain with Waterbury when the COGs are consolidated.
“Waterbury is our core city,” Chatfield said. “I will follow what Waterbury wants to do.”
Chatfield said that he, along with other town leaders, are leery about what a change of district would mean for their municipalities. Chatfield said he relies on the Council of Governments of the Central Naugatuck Valley for money for items such as road repairs and the operation of the senior center’s minibus.
“We don’t want to lose any of our funding,” Chatfield said.
Beacon Falls First Selectman Christopher Bielik refers to his town as a bridge between the Valley towns and towns that would like to remain with Waterbury.
By its geographical placement Beacon Falls is a Valley town. It shares both Route 8 and the rail line with the other valley towns. However, it is also part of a regional school district, Region 16, with Prospect.
“I think as far as the consolidation goes it is a good thing for the town to not only be aligned with Waterbury and [Interstate] 84 but also looking south along the Route 8 corridor,” Bielik said. “Those two connections are vital to Beacon Falls moving forward.”
While he sees a future with Waterbury, Bielik hopes that the Valley towns will have the opportunity to become one unit.
“I think we, as a Valley entity, could come together. There’s a lot of synergy that goes through our communities. We have a lot of mutual aide,” Bielik said. “When OPM makes their decision we are certainly hoping they decide the Valley sticks together. I fully support that.”
Bielik pointed out that Beacon Falls, Seymour and Derby are already linked as part of the 105th Congressional District.
Acting Executive Director at Council of Governments of the Central Naugatuck Valley Sam Gold said if the towns are not able to form a consolidated region themselves, OPM has said it might link the Council of Governments of the Central Naugatuck Valley, the Valley, and the six towns of Greater Bridgeport together. The other option is merging the Council of Governments of the Central Naugatuck Valley with the towns currently represented by the Bristol-based Central Connecticut Regional Planning Agency.
“By the end of next year this agency as it exists today won’t exist. There will be a new Council of Governments formed with the new region,” Gold said.
Gold said that, regardless of where the divide comes, it will be difficult for the towns involved in the near future.
“For regions like this region that go through this process, it will set us back. Over the next few years will be consolidating agencies. It will take time, which will be a hindrance in the short term,” Gold said.
However, Gold called the long-term effects “transformative.”
“We will be able to take on larger and more complicated projects,” Gold said.
OPM has given all local municipalities until Friday to come up with arrangements themselves. After that the office can take over and consolidate how it best sees fit.
The Council of Governments of the Central Naugatuck Valley held a meeting on Monday. According to the unapproved minutes, not vote was taken but the COG’s top priority is to ensure all the Valley towns end up together.