The lobby that represents small towns of less than 30,000 residents expressed their discontent Wednesday with the pace of legislative action on issues like the elimination of unfunded state mandates.
Small town leaders like Roxbury First Selectman Barbara Henry said many of the mandate relief bills were watered down or killed in committee.
“We were told maybe next year,” Henry told a room full of local leaders Wednesday. “I have no confidence they’re even being considered.”
Betsy Gara, the lobbyist for the Council of Small Towns, said the state doesn’t have a budget and not one mandate relief bill has passed either the House or the Senate. But at least bill placing new mandates on towns has passed each of the chambers, she added.
And if anyone thought extending the municipal conveyance tax, which sunsets June 30, was a given, they need to think again, Gara said. She said just the other day it narrowly passed the Insurance and Real Estate Committee.
House Speaker Chris Donovan took exception to Gara and Henry’s comments. He said the House has already passed a bill that will allow municipalities to use the purchasing power of the state to buy prescription drugs. He said the leaders in the legislature are working on a plan to help out the towns.
“They’re grasping at straws,” Donovan said. He said all of this is going to be worked out.
“We’re here to help,” he said adding that cuts to municipal aid were taken off the table during budget negotiations.
Rep. Pam Sawyer, R-Bolton, said how many years so these municipal leaders have to come up here and complain about the unfunded mandates. She said the issue has been studied to death and the “time for action is now.”
Rep. Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, said Thursday that today the House is expected to vote on at least four recommendations made by the Municipal Opportunities and Regional Efficiencies, or M.O.R.E. Commission.
One of the bills will allow school boards to make collaborative purchases and another allows schools board and municipalities to jointly purchase health insurance.
Another bill the House is expected to take up today will increase the hotel tax by three percent. One percent would go to the city or town where the hotel is located and two percent will go to the Regional Planning Organization, which will share the resources with a region.
Bart Russell, executive director of the Council of Small Towns, said Wednesday that the number one concern of many of these towns is getting a state budget before the legislature adjourns May 5.
“We want a budget by the end of the session to take all the uncertainty out of it,” Russell said.
As far as things such as the regional hotel tax, Russell said his organization is supportive of voluntary regional initiatives, especially those that increase revenues to towns. However, he thinks the more important piece is the unfunded mandates.
There’s plans Thursday to take up a bill that would alleviate some of the mandates municipalities deal with, Sharkey said. He said HB 5255 will no longer make towns responsible for transporting the belongings of evicted tenants to a storage facility. The bill will also eliminate the requirement towns have to post their meeting minutes on the town Web site.
Admittedly not everything municipal leaders wanted will get done this year, but Sharkey said the conversations will continue. “We’re not sweeping it under the rug” he said.