Facing an October deadline, members of the Housatonic Valley Council of Elected Officials and the South Western Regional Planning Agency are working toward merging, with both regional planning organizations this week voted to explore such a move.

But there are concerns about a dilution of influence and a competition for reconstruction dollars between the heavily traveled interstates 84 and 95.

The agencies have no choice but to merge with another group. The only decision to be made is selecting which one.

The state Office of Policy Management has given Connecticut's 10 regional organizations until Oct. 1 to form their own alliances or it will do it for them as a cost-saving measure.

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Agency merger?
Housatonic Valley Council of Elected Officials: Danbury, Bethel, Brookfield, Newtown, New Fairfield, Sherman, New Milford, Bridgewater, Ridgefield and Redding.
South West Regional Planning Association: Weston, Wilton, Westport, Norwalk, New Canaan, Darien, Stamford and Greenwich.

A statewide boundary plan by OPM is likely to be rolled out on Jan. 1. It is likely the Housatonic region would be merged with either Bridgeport, Waterbury or the southwest agency, said Dave Hennan, deputy director of the Housatonic Valley agency.

"Some of us on HVCEO have been working toward this for seven years," said New Milford Mayor Pat Murphy. "It's not like this is a decision we're making overnight. We knew this was coming."

The Office of Policy and Management's goal is to reduce the number of regional organizations from 10 to five. Each organization should comprise at least 14 municipalities.

"Our board specifically culled out HVCEO (to merge with)," said SWRPA executive director Floyd Lapp. "SWRPA will do what it has to do based on legislative and OPM requirements. Anything less is just giving into angst and conjecture. Anything else doesn't move us toward getting funding into the future."

A major concern regarding a merger, members said, is how municipalities will continue to receive state funding.

State funds will, in the future, be directed toward these larger, newly formed Councils of Governments, as the new planning groups will be called.

There is concern about transportation funding coming to this area for I-84 and Route 7 with the present southwest region having Interstate 95 and the Merritt Parkway.

But there area also fears of overall funding being funneled to large, poorer urban populations in Bridgeport or Waterbury, with Housatonic valley towns having to fight for their share.

The state has given towns on the borders of existing regional organizations the option of splintering off to join other groups, and some are considering it.

Towns such as Sherman, Bridgewater and Newtown would be eligible to leave the new Housatonic Valley grouping and align with groups in the Litchfield or Waterbury areas.

stuz@newstimes.com; 860-355-7322