March 24, 2017 04:40PM
By Catherine Hewitt
Sun staff writer
PAWCATUCK — Connecticut’s financial woes will soon impact Stonington and North Stonington even though the two municipalities have worked hard to be fiscally responsible.
That was the message from both First Selectman Rob Simmons of Stonington and Shawn Murphy of North Stonington, who said town budgets will be hit hard and taxes will rise this year because of deep state cuts to municipal grants. Both consider the impending cuts unfair given that the towns have worked hard to pare their budgets.
The two addressed an audience of about 35 people, nearly all of whom were from Stonington, at the State of the Stoningtons breakfast at the Pawcatuck Neighborhood Center Tuesday. The annual event was presented by the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut’s Stoningtons Division.
The Town of Stonington is “doing well, under the circumstances,” Simmons told the audience. “But the circumstances involve the failure of the State of Connecticut to meet its obligations to the municipalities who have been thrifty.”
The town worked to achieve its bond rating of Aa1 and has been careful about spending money, he said. Positive indicators included the addition of 200 jobs at Davis Standard and the availability of new affordable housing for workers at The Thread Mill and Spruce Meadows.
Gov. Dannel Malloy’s budget will cut 90 percent of Stonington’s state aid, which represents more than $2 million, he said.
“The situation is going to be really ugly and it’s not as if citizens, first selectmen, superintendents of schools, and responsible people in Connecticut have not expressed concerns about the fiscal irresponsibility of Hartford over the years,” Simmons said. “But now the system has broken down and has shed its burden on its towns.”
Murphy said North Stonington’s audit shows the town is in excellent financial condition, with the unassigned fund balance gaining 8.5 percentage points in the last four years and the grand list increasing by 1.8 percent this year. Increased tax revenue would come from new businesses such as Jovial Foods, Faria Beede, Farm to Gold and Quality Propane.
He also said the $38.55 million school modernization project, which will cost the town between $21.7 million and $23.5 million after state reimbursements, would start in July and is expected to be completed in two-and-a-half years. In addition, bids for the redesigned and downsized Center for Emergency Services, a $6.36 million project that stalled when voters refused to fund an additional $2.25 million to cover cost overruns, are due today with work scheduled to start toward the end of April, he said.
“Now some of the frightening news — our state’s finances are in trouble,” he said. “Our legislators have failed us and now plan to make municipalities pay for the state’s reckless spending over the years.”
North Stonington will lose $1.6 million in grant revenue and $400,000 resulting from changes in personal property tax changes that will lower the town’s grand list, he said.
As a result of those reductions, Murphy said a 4 mil increase per $1,000 of assessed property value — a 15 percent tax increase — would be necessary to balance next year’s budget in addition to any mil rate adjustment needed for other budget increases.
“The governor can’t seem to understand that it is the towns that have been responsible in budget management and the state has been the opposite,” Murphy said. “If the Connecticut flag is not flying upside down, maybe it should be.”
Speakers also included North Stonington Superintendent of Schools Peter Nero, Stonington Assistant Superintendent of Schools Nicki Gullickson. Bruce MacDonald, chairman of the chamber’s Stoningtons Division, moderated the event and Tony Sheridan, president and CEO of the chamber, gave the opening and closing remarks. Brian Orenstein, president and CEO of Charter Oak Federal Credit Union, a sponsor of the event, also spoke briefly. Vicki Anderson, executive director of the Neighborhood Center, who is retiring in June, was honored with a certificate of appreciation from the chamber.