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"...For all of these initiatives, there is still not a consensus that regionalism is worth the trouble."
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Western Connecticut Council of Governments






FROM TESTIMONY  BY REP. GAIL LAVIELLE ON MARCH 6, 2015

Eminent Domain on Steroids?  A New Bill Threatens Cities and Towns

How would you feel if a group of people who lived elsewhere in the state and whom no one had elected were to take over certain planning and zoning functions in your town or city and unilaterally make critical decisions about entire neighborhoods -- like who could own property there, and what they could do with it? Although this scenario seems far-fetched, it is clearly outlined in governor’s bill HB 6851, which has just received a public hearing in the General Assembly.

 
HB 6851 would strip towns and cities of part of their local planning and zoning decision-making authority by transferring it to a board of state-level appointees. It would also permanently expose all those who own property anywhere within half a mile of a rail or bus station to the threat of eminent domain.
 
On the surface, the purpose of HB 6851 is laudable: to promote transit-oriented development. TOD both encourages the use of public transit and makes it easily accessible to people who cannot or choose not to drive. TOD’s potential beneficiaries include, among others, young professionals, seniors, people with disabilities, and people with limited incomes. Those living outside TOD areas benefit too, from reduced vehicle emissions, less traffic, a multi-generational populace, and concentration of development away from greenspaces.
 
TOD is a concept that many communities would like to pursue. But under HB 6851 they might not have the chance, because instead, it would be pursued for them by a group of political appointees, without any requirement for local approvals at all.
 
Here’s the substance of the bill:

•    It creates a quasi-public entity called the Connecticut Transit Corridor Development Authority (TCDA) that would be run by a board of 11 voting members, including seven political appointees and four state agency commissioners.
•    It allows the TCDA to promote TOD in TCDA districts, which include all properties within a half-mile radius of a rail or bus station.
•    It gives the TCDA board eminent domain powers within TCDA districts.
•    It requires the TCDA board to consult with the chief elected official of a municipality where development is taking place, but does not require the board to obtain his or her approval for anything. Nor does it require the TCDA board to consult with or obtain approvals from any local legislative bodies, boards, or commissions.
•    It gives the TCDA the authority to issue its own bonds, financed by revenues collected through fees and rents, as well as state taxes.
•    In short, the bill would give 11 non-elected people the authority to do whatever they wanted in 500-acre swaths of any city or town in Connecticut with a rail or bus station, and no one in those municipalities would be able to do anything about it.
 
Many transit stations are in downtown or village areas. Those areas could change dramatically, with no consideration for the views of local residents or property owners. The changes could do a lot of good, like providing needed affordable housing or new transit parking facilities, but they could also do a lot of harm. For example, the TCDA could demolish a beloved local merchant’s shop to replace it with housing or offices, take over a parking lot that generates municipal revenues and pass on the revenues to the state, or expropriate owners of private homes.
 
The political composition of the board also raises questions about contractor and developer selection and agreements, whatever the political party or parties making TCDA board appointments.
 
Were the legislative intent simply to offer TOD assistance and incentives to municipalities and to give their citizens or elected officials a vote in local decisions, HB 6851 could easily have been drafted differently. But it wasn’t. Instead, the language of the bill explicitly allows a non-elected body to supersede completely the authority of representative local government with no checks and balances whatsoever.
 
HB 6851 now awaits consideration by the legislature’s Planning and Development Committee. The administration’s proposal of the bill raises many disturbing questions about its policy stance on the state’s role in local government. The implications are vast for residents of every city and town in Connecticut.
 
 On Thursday, March 19, 2015, the WCCOG discussed this bill and voted to make a statement opposing it - to be approved by Executive Committee.






REGIONAL TAXATION WHEN IT TAKES PLACE IN THE FUTURE MIGHT BE ALONG THESE LINES...OR NOT?
Thank goodness Weston is now in a region with other towns that are also rural.  And furthermore, this may be the beginning of a new focus on Georgetown!  Public Hearing on "Reverse PILOT" in 2014.


What a difference three years makes!
Trumbull quits shared health district
Keila Torres Ocasio, CTPOST
Updated 10:45 pm, Friday, December 12, 2014


TRUMBULL -- The Trumbull-Monroe Health District has served both towns since 2004, but one town decided this week to quit, leaving the other scrambling to find another option.  Estimating the town could save as much as $80,000 with the move, the Town Council on Thursday night voted to withdraw from the joint health district...story in full:  http://www.ctpost.com/local/article/Trumbull-quits-shared-health-district-5953567.php




SWRPA NO MORE...SOON.


Please read this FORUM article to understand how the hand of government massages its way to what it wanted all along.
We see now that the concept of a Council of Governments - with everyone getting one vote - as opposed to R.P.A. weighted voting (by representative of the Board of Selectman and P&Z) is going to be trashed...reminds me or George Orwell sometimes, the way the Legislature and Governor work.  And we can now add in "D" control of the Supreme Court, too, perhaps?
 


SWRPA Board votes 15-2 to back their CEO's...
SWRPA CEOs Urge Danbury-Area Planning Body Merger
WestportNow
8-28-13

UPDATE Under the plan, 10 municipalities around Danbury would merge their regional planning authority with the eight southwest members. Contributed graphic

UPDATE Facing a state deadline, chief elected officials of Westport and six of the seven other members of the South Western Regional Planning Agency (SWRPA) today recommended merging with the 10-municipality governing authority to the north around Danbury.





Sharkey Says Legislature Will Tackle Property Taxes
CTNEWSJUNKIE
by Christine Stuart | Sep 12, 2013 1:25pm

He didn’t get the phase out of the car tax that he wanted last session, but House Speaker Brendan Sharkey wants the conversation on property taxes to continue during the 2014 legislative session.

“Before the current recession we’re coming out of now, the crisis before the crisis was the property tax,” Sharkey said Thursday at a Capitol press conference. “Here in Connecticut, there were people in the state who were talking about open revolt over the property tax and the impacts it was having on their local communities.”

...The last time the state commissioned a study of property taxes was October 2003. The resulting report, which has been available online for 10 years, did not offer a consensus conclusion to eliminate the car tax. However, it did recommend implementing a temporary spending cap on municipalities to limit spending growth to 2.5 percent per year, or the rate of inflation. That idea seems to have faded from lawmakers’ agendas.


NOT YET
Regionalism Panel Promises MORE For The Money

Game Changer? Legislative commission could bring down state costs
Courant editorial
7:06 PM EDT, May 24, 2013

Is it any wonder that Connecticut is considered a high-cost state?

...The Ill-Considered

Not all of the MORE proposals are good. For example, MORE proposes the elimination of the state law requiring public notices to be printed in daily newspapers. Yes, it is in The Courant's interest to continue this practice, but it is also in the public interest. More people read newspapers than look at city or state websites, studies indicate.

Also, the commission proposes a gradual elimination, over several years, of the property tax on automobiles, in large part because the tax is unfair. It is indeed unfair: A tax on the same car can be much higher in some cities than in some small and well-off towns. But there is nothing inherently wrong with taxing cars, especially when the state is trying to promote the use of transit.

We think the better step is to create a standard statewide mill rate on cars, and leave it at that. Mr. Sharkey said at a press conference that the commission may decide to do that.

Change is a process. There will be disagreements on certain issues. But if Mr. Sharkey and Mr. Larson can keep the MORE Commission at work over the next few years, this can be a less expensive and more competitive state.

Copyright © 2013, The Hartford Courant



Does M.O.R.E. Commission favor HB6629
Purple colored commission - bi-partisan!  As in "the State of Connecticut wants more from Fairfield County towns."  More on this story here and the "why" here.

And a must read is the CT MIRROR series on CT's fiscal crisis, here, part two:  http://www.ctmirror.org/print/19825

WHAT'S UP IN THE CT LEGISLATURE?  MORE REGIONALIZING, NO PUN INTENDED.

Page 70 is where the Office of Legislative Research report begins.
AN ACT CONCERNING REGIONALISM IN CONNECTICUT:  http://www.cga.ct.gov/2013/FC/pdf/2013HB-06629-R000581-FC.pdf

Previously, the
House version...
http://www.cga.ct.gov/2013/TOB/H/2013HB-06629-R00-HB.htm

V-Chair. SWRPA, 1st Selectman Weston, Wilton, Mayor of Norwalk, 1st Selectmen of Greenwich, Darien

First selectmen, mayors take a stand
Norwalk HOUR
Posted: Tuesday, April 30, 2013 5:03 pm

State Sen. Toni Boucher, R-26, applauds area first selectman and mayors who visited the Legislative Office Building in Hartford to fight against HB6629.

The bill before the House would eliminate regional planning agencies and regional councils of elected officials by Jan. 1, 2015.

Those agencies and councils would be replaced with eight regional councils of governments; to require the Northeastern Region Council of Governments to develop a pilot program to address the human services needs of the region; to require the Capital Region Council of Governments to develop a pilot program to improve services and cost-efficiency in the region; and to require the Valley Council of Governments to develop a pilot program to transfer administration of the HUD Community Development Block Grant Small Cities Program for the towns of Ansonia, Derby, Seymour and Shelton to such council.






This is where Regional Assets Districts come in - is the activity regionally important?  Then the region should chip in $$
Arts funding drama takes center stage

Jan Ellen Spiegel, CT MIRROR
February 15, 2012

Arts organizations in Connecticut had been feeling the love from the Malloy administration: a new home in the Department of Economic and Community Development, leadership that seemed to care what they had to say, new programs, and not insignificantly -- more funding.

But not after last week...





CCM airs priorities to improve Conn. communities’ financial recovery
By Mary E. O’Leary, Register Topics Editor
moleary@newhavenregister.com
Published: Tuesday, January 04, 2011


HARTFORD — The Connecticut Conference of Municipalities views the state’s current fiscal crisis as an opportunity for fundamental changes that will reduce mandates on communities, provide more revenue options for them and looks to more incentives for regional solutions...WAS IT EVER THUS...




An example of how to cut an administrative job out of the budget - do it over the summer?
East Hampton Town Manager Faces Public Fire Over Police Chief
By BILL LEUKHARDT, bleukhardt@courant.com
11:47 PM EDT, July 2, 2010

EAST HAMPTON —

Town Manager Jeffrey O'Keefe was pelted with catcalls and shouts of "resign" Friday morning by a noisy crowd of about 200 citizens backing embattled police Chief Matthew Reimondo.

The people filled the high school auditorium to hear Reimondo challenge O'Keefe's decision, made June 22, to immediately eliminate the $99,000-a-year job of police chief and several other police department positions to save an estimated $500,000.

O'Keefe said cuts are necessary because the town faces a projected $1 million shortfall in the 2011-2012 fiscal year. The town council will be asked to amend its ordinances and eliminate the police chief position. A sergeant was promoted to lieutenant to lead the department...




Op-Ed Contributor
Small-Town Big Spending
NYTIMES
By TOM BROKAW
April 20, 2009

DURING these uncertain times we’ve yet to hear a phrase with the resonance of Franklin Roosevelt’s “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” but there are a couple of minor-chord expressions that should have staying power.

One is the observation of Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff, that “you never want a serious crisis to go to waste.” Another comes from my boss, Jeff Immelt, the chief executive of General Electric, who has warned, “This is not a cycle; it’s a reset...”  RESET MEANS MOVING TO BOSTON IN 2016.




New Day For Smart Growth

LEGISLATIVE PACKAGE • New laws would encourage regional cooperation, saving money and land
Hartford Courant
January 27, 2009

Progress, the late poet Ogden Nash observed, might have been all right once, but it has gone on too long. That might describe the state's postwar rush to suburbia.

Stoked by VA mortgages and cheap cars and gas, development marched outward. Cities lost population as former villages boomed. But what boomed was mostly sprawl — ill-planned, low-density, auto-dependent, single-family residential or strip mall construction on what had been forest or farmland.

Only belatedly did the citizenry realize that progress has a cost, in addition to infrastructure and services expenses, air and water pollution, energy use and social isolation. It diminishes the open lands that support agriculture, water supplies, wildlife habitat and the traditional visual character of the Connecticut countryside...



Gold Coasters not playing nice
Connecticut Post
Ken Dixon
Updated: 01/09/2009 04:48:17 PM EST

The Democratic-dominated state General Assembly has finally reached the stages of budgetary grief.  Unfortunately, that stage is denial, so this isn't going to be the year that the Legislature is going to blow up local school boards, the way Maine is doing in its fiscal crisis...



Regionalism Trumpeted, But Town Leaders Wary Of Being Told How To Do It 
DAY
By Karin Crompton , Ted Mann 
Published on 1/11/2009
 
Don't ask Lyme First Selectman Ralph Eno about regionalism unless you're ready to weather the shouting...



SURPRISE!  IN 2008 PEOPLE WERE DEALING WITH THINGS OTHER THAN REGIONALISM.




Area leaders hash out hot issues at roundtable

Norwalk HOUR
September 13, 2007

Businesses are moving in, shops and restaurants are opening. Downtowns are flourishing in Darien, Fairfield, Westport and poised to do so in Norwalk.  If those trends are to continue, however, the four lower Fairfield County communities must work together on regional issues such as transportation, education funding and affordable housing...AND THEN CAME THE GREAT RECESSION.






Push for regionalization a tricky balancing act
Norwich Bulletin

By MAX BAKKE
August 25, 2007

For many small towns in Windham County, passing budgets this year proved arduous...AND THAT WAS A DECADE AGO!





Intertwined economies quantified; 'trade imbalance' hurts state, report says

PAM DAWKINS pdawkins@ctpost.com
Article Launched:11/02/2006 04:49:00 AM EST

Gross state product isn't the only measure of an economy — especially when that state is Connecticut, according to a senior economist with the state Department of Labor.

In an article in the Connecticut Economic Digest, released Wednesday, Daniel Kennedy examined the apparently mutually exclusive realities of slower growth in gross state product, which measures the value of goods and services produced in a state, and high per-capita income.

"A major factor that resolves that paradox" is the two concepts at work, Kennedy said.

Namely, gross state product is a geographically based measure but many state residents, particularly those "south and west" of New Haven work in New York City.

"Fairfield County is basically a satellite of the New York City economy," Kennedy said. "There isn't really a 'Connecticut economy' because you've got a substantial amount of people that are working in New York City," said economist Todd Martin, who advises People's Bank...





Support Grows For Regional Solutions To Regional Issues
DAY
By Paul Choiniere
Published on 6/5/2006
  
Norwich doesn't have a casino, but its schools have plenty of casino kids.

The student body at Greeneville Elementary School is an ethnic and racial melting pot, with two-thirds categorized as minority students. For many, English is a second language. More than one-third have parents who work at one of the region's two casinos. They bring both a cultural richness and an educational challenge.

Griswold doesn't have a major shopping center, but its business district in the Borough of Jewett City felt the pinch six years ago when Lisbon Landing — with its Wal-Mart, Home Depot and several other big- box retailers — opened just a couple of miles down the road.

Big projects have consequences that spill over town borders, but Connecticut, governed by a system in which decisions on development, zoning and education are left to each individual town, is particularly ill-equipped to plan for and address those impacts.

But that could be changing. The public, it appears, is in a mood to explore new approaches — regional approaches — to the challenges facing this corner of Connecticut.

Utopia Studios Ltd., the next potential big project, was given a green light May 23 when Preston voters approved a development agreement to allow planning to move forward on the $1.6 billion entertainment and studio complex. It is proposed for the 419-acre former Norwich Hospital property in the southwest corner of town.



In 2000 the legislature passed a law that would allow municipalities to voluntarily share property tax revenues.  So far no region has utilized the law.

PS.  Utopia Studios ended up in disaster because it was...utopian.


 



Dear Electees: Get Smart About Growth

By Lisa McGinley, Night City Editor, DAY
Published on 11/9/2005

...Anthony Downey, a senior fellow in economic studies for the Brookings Institution, the well-known independent think tank, listed the goals of Smart Growth in a speech in 2003:

• Limit outward expansion

• Encourage higher-density development

• Encourage mixed-use zoning;

• Reduce travel by private vehicles

• Revitalize older areas

• Preserve open space

Affordable housing can be a goal, but usually is not, he noted, because of homeowner fears it will drive down the value of their own investments...



Somebody Take Command:  Economic development is too important to Eastern Connecticut's future to be left in the hands of local governments.
New London DAY Editorial   
Published on 10/16/2005

The fight to save the submarine base demonstrated what an effective network of regional organizations the region has assembled since previous base-closing struggles in the early 1990s. But the important factor in that success — which few want to discuss — is the role leadership played. The organization would have gone nowhere if it hadn't been for strong direction by a few leaders.

Cooperation is good, but it was a command structure that overcame this crisis, and clear lines of command will be essential to make this region BRAC-proof in the future. Somebody, or some unified organization, has to take charge of uniting the region behind the complicated and arduous task of economic development. For a region as steeped in Navy tradition as this one, that point should be obvious.

Economic development needs to be carried out on a regional basis with people whose day job it is to be in charge...