Danbury-area towns relieved at final state budget
DANBURY — With Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s signature finally on a state budget, town officials across the region are breathing a sigh of relief — though not a deep one.
Most towns will see a much smaller cut in state aid this fiscal year than they would have gotten under the governor’s most recent proposal, which would have drastically slashed aid to a majority of the state’s municipalities.
Newtown, for example, would have received $5.1 million less under Malloy’s plan than last year’s $7.8 million, but lost just $391,000 in the final bipartisan compromise the governor signed last week. New Milford, which would have lost $3.4 million of last year’s $13.8 million, instead lost just $691,000.
New Milford Mayor David Gronbach said the town’s cut is “definitely manageable,” and he doesn’t foresee much effect on town services.
“Any cut is difficult, because we’re already stretched pretty thin,” Gronbach said. “But it’s much more manageable than those multimillion-dollar cuts. The alternative was, quite frankly, disastrous.”
Many towns had budgeted cautiously this year, knowing some sort of cut was likely — though they hoped it would not be as drastic as Malloy had led them to expect.
“The budget we sent to referendum was predicated on reduced aid,” said Newtown First Selectman Pat Llodra. “Now we need to apply these state budget numbers to our local budget to determine actual impact.”
The fiscal year 2018 began on July 1, but until last week the governor and legislators had been unable to agree on a budget — the longest such impasse in the nation. Had the impasse gone on, the state would have continued to run under an executive order Malloy issued earlier this year.
In his budget proposal, Malloy had sought to concentrate state aid on larger cities, including Danbury, instead of more affluent suburbs. Even so, Danbury would have lost about $850,000. But the final budget restores that cut, and the city will get the same $40.1 million it did last year.
But most towns will see further cuts in fiscal year 2019, which begins next July 1, and officials realize they must expect leaner state budgets in the future.
“Although you’ll get municipalities such as Ridgefield relieved, at least for now, I think it’s a short-term, short-lived situation,” said First Selectman Rudy Marconi. “We need to look at our state and create sustainability.”
Ridgefield would have suffered more than most towns from Malloy’s earlier proposal because towns would have had to pay a greater share of teacher pension costs, a move Marconi was prepared to challenge in court. But that change did not make it into the final budget, which Marconi called a “huge relief.”
Some towns had budgeted for deeper cuts than materialized.
New Fairfield, looking at more than $4 million in possible cuts early this year, prepared by raising property taxes about 4 percent and holding the line on spending. But the final cut was just $247,000 this year and $378,000 next year.
First Selectman Susan Chapman said the relatively shallow cut was “good news,” because it allows the town to proceed with road projects it would otherwise would have had to postpone.
“That will give us the opportunity to pave the roads we anticipated paving this year,” Chapman said. “We weren’t going to pave them. Some of them are in worse shape than others, but they’re definitely in need.”
Brookfield was looking at millions of dollars cut from its state-aid package in Malloy’s budget, but will only see a $111,000 cut next year.
Echoing other town officials, First Selectman Steve Dunn said the cuts were manageable.
“It’s not great, but it's something we can handle,” Dunn said. “We’re pleased with the way the budget ended up: We’re not happy at all with the process we took to get there.”
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