Connecticut’s largest municipal lobby released a report Wednesday detailing the challenges faced by the state’s 25 most distressed municipalities.
The report, released by the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, showed that urban and rural areas across the state and many of their residents are struggling.
The report used nine measures of social and economic welfare including income, crime rate, education, and property tax data to determine which communities faced the most serious hardships.
Hartford, Waterbury, New Britain, Bridgeport, and New London were the top five most distressed municipalities, but many small rural towns were featured on the list, including Preston, North Canaan, and Sprague.
“Towns and cities have to deal with so many issues that impact their ability to provide services . . . All towns and cities are dealing with these factors in some way,” Kevin Maloney, CCM’s spokesman, said.
Maloney noted that most of the services towns provide are paid for at the local level. Areas with a limited tax base have a hard time paying for the social services and development projects they need.
“Property values and grand lists are really the key for towns to be able to have the economic ability to levy enough taxes to provide services,” Maloney said.
The towns and cities on the list all have below-average rates of owner-occupied homes and, frequently, a lot of nontaxable state-owned properties. These issues cut deeply into the grand list and the community’s resources.
“That limits a town’s ability to have funding which then moves towards the state having the moral and economic obligation to work with those towns because the deck is so stacked against them,” he said.
Maloney said the report highlighted the link between underperforming schools and distressed communities. In Bridgeport, 100 percent of K-12 students are eligible free or reduced lunches. The city has the highest dropout rate and some of the lowest test scores in the state. Dropout rates in the top five most distressed communities were two and three times the state average and about half of the towns showed average 8th grade Connecticut Mastery Test scores at or 50 percent of the target scores.
However, Maloney said there was good news in the education data as well: half of the 22 towns showed dropout rates below the state average.
“That is a sign that towns are working successfully. You may not have a high performing school district, but obviously they’ve had some success with decreasing the dropout rate,” Maloney said.
The report also found that contrary to popular belief, crime rates didn’t necessarily rise with population density. Many small towns had high crime rates, although the cities topped the list again.
New Haven ranked the highest with a crime rate nearly three times the state average, even though it was fairly low on the list of distressed communities. Plainfield, relatively more distressed than New Haven, had the second lowest crime rate.
“We’ve long argued that some of the poor rural communities have, on their scale, as large a need as a Hartford, a Bridgeport, a Waterbury, a New Haven, but sometimes it’s not perceived that way because of the small nature of their universe.”
Although the CCM has not released their legislative agenda yet, Maloney said the state has to provide more assistance to these communities. He emphasized the role of cooperation and regional planning between communities.
Maloney said he’s hopeful about the consolidation of the Regional Council of Governments from 15 divisions down to nine earlier this summer.
“I think what you’re going to see is a more coordinated effort in the region and recognizing those towns where they have to channel funding and work together,” he said.
“If your neighbor is having real difficulties, there’s going to be leakage to the surrounding towns, so its everyone’s notion in that region to work together.”