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COGs topic of discussion at forum

Published 5:28 pm, Wednesday, June 4, 2014
  • Representative Chris Davis, R-57, fielded questions about the creation of the Council of Governments at the Darien Library on Tuesday night. Photo: Megan Spicer / Darien News
    Representative Chris Davis, R-57, fielded questions about the creation of the Council of Governments at the Darien Library on Tuesday night. Photo: Megan Spicer

 

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Members from the Municipal Opportunities and Regional Efficiencies commission fielded questions Tuesday about the newly adopted Council of Governments, which the Representative Town Meeting will need to consider to allow Darien to join.

A League of Women Voters forum about COGs took place at the Darien Library and featured MORE commission members state Reps. Jason Rojas, D-East Hartford, of the regional entities working group; Terrie Wood, R-Darien, co-chairman of the special education select working group; Chris Davis, R-Ellington, the ranking commission minority member; and Tim Larson, D-East Hartford, the commission chairman.

In 2010, Speaker of the House Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, created the MORE commission and invited legislators, town officials, advocates and citizens to uncover ways for municipalities to be more financially efficient.

One such outcome was the creation of COGs, which will bring together towns and regions to work with each other.

The South Western Regional Planning Agency, of which Darien is a member, has agreed to join with the Housatonic Valley Council of Elected Officials. When the RTM votes to join the COG is unknown.

The SWRPA also is composed of Greenwich, New Canaan, Norwalk, Stamford, Weston, Westport and Wilton. The HVCEO is comprised of Bethel, Bridgewater, Brookfield, Danbury, New Fairfield, New Milford, Newtown, Redding, Ridgefield and Sherman. The merger of the two regional planning agencies will create the Western Connecticut Council of Governments, the second-largest Council of Government in Connecticut. The largest region is the Capital Region Council of Government in the Hartford area that has 30 towns.

However, staff within the Office of Policy and Management believe that the optimal region for the SWRPA to join with is the Greater Bridgeport area because of the common interests in transportation with Metro-North and along the Interstate 95 corridor, according to a December 6, 2013, letter from Benjamin Barnes, OPM secretary.

Joining the COG is voluntary, said Rojas.

"If Darien voted not to be a part of it, it wouldn't be a part of it," Rojas said. "It's a voluntary organization. But Darien wouldn't have a seat at the table when the COG talks about transportation or consolidating services."

Connecticut is one of two states that does not have county government, which the General Assembly abolished in 1960.

Under the current structure, COGs do not have the authority to tax, said Davis, who is the ranking member of the MORE commission. COGs do, however, have the authority to determine projects based on money that is given by state and federal governments.

Davis told the audience that it is not the intention of the COG to transfer money from wealthy areas to poorer areas.

"The COG would decide where the project money goes," Davis said.