Darien Selectmen nix proposal for State Budget Committee
DARIEN — Despite continued fiscal uncertainty from Hartford, the town will not create a committee to oversee the effects of state cuts on town finances, despite the requests of one selectman.
“I have no idea where you’re going with this because I just don’t see anything happening until there’s a political will to make the tough decisions,” said Republican Selectman Kip Koons, at Monday’s meeting of the Board of Selectmen (BOS), in response to a request by Democrat Selectman Rob Richards to create a committee.
“We have to worry about how we’re going to cannibalize our budget going forward because the state problem is not going away. You can’t solve it overnight. No one can solve it overnight. It’s going to take years to solve it,” Koons continued, before calling Richards’ request a “Don Quixote adventure.”
Richards proposed the committee, on which selectmen took no action, in response to Gov. Dannel Malloy’s plan to shift the cost of teachers’ pensions and other fees to municipalities, the total cost of which is still uncertain, but which could cost Darien more than $4 million this year.
According to Richards, the role of the committee would have been “to analyze state budget proposals, come up with possible solutions, and recommend fiscal priorities for our state representatives in a bipartisan manner.”
“If we create a committee to look at sidewalks, we can come up with a local committee to look at the state budget,” Richards argued. “It brings the conversation to Darien. It gives the people of Darien an opportunity to participate.”
On the contrary, First Selectman Jayme Stevenson questioned the usefulness of such a committee — that would have included public officials as well as residents — channels of communication between Hartford in Darien already exist, in the form of state representative and senators, and that appeals from the latter have mostly gone unheeded.
“Do you think that people in Hartford will listen to a community like Darien with budget suggestions?” First Selectman Jayme Stevenson said.
Still, Richards stressed the need for nonpartisan research and brainstorming. Stevenson responded by presenting a series of studies conducted in the last two years by regional nonprofit or interest groups. She included a 2015 study by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College on Connecticut’s State Retirement Systems, a 2016 study by the Connecticut Business Industry Association (CBIA) called “Fixing Connecticut’s Fiscal Problems,” a six-part 2016 study by the Connecticut Institute for the 21st Century on the Framework of Connecticut’s Fiscal Future, and a study compiled in 2016 by the Connecticut Council of Municipalities titled “This Report is Different.”
“What I’ve tried to represent here is the extent to which time and energy has been put into analyzing the state budget crisis and offering a variety of different solutions. More information can certainly be added to it. Whether it’s productive or not, I don’t know,” Stevenson said.