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Municipal Leaders Continue to Face Serious Challenges

March 15, 2018

Vanessa E. Rossitto, CPA

The future is being forged by the thinkers and doers congregating within the hallways of Connecticut Town halls. Municipal leaders focus on the issues that matter, and it’s clear that top elected and appointed officials in cities and towns across Connecticut continue to face challenges in 2018. Here are some of the top challenges many of them—whether they are a large city, a small town or anything in between—are likely to face:

State Budget Uncertainty

This continues be the largest issue that looms over all. State funding is being cut and continued talk of moving pension costs to municipalities have all 169 towns and cities unsure about their own budgets. Municipal leaders have noted the relative strength of their cities’ finances, many cities are returning to pre-recession levels of fiscal health, and numerous municipal leaders are committed to raising the level of service their cities provide. Fiscal discipline continues to be a primary goal for leaders as they chart the path forward. Municipalities are likely examining ways to reduce costs and possibly consolidate certain services; finding ways to continue to allow local government to do more with less seems to be the best option for many of them.

Regionalization

Often considered the “third rail” of Connecticut municipal politics, wide scale regionalization is something our state is never likely to embrace. That said, some level of shared services, particularly in the smaller towns, is both realistic and cost-effective. Public works, some areas of public safety, recreation—these are all areas (as well as others) where towns can consider teaming up to combine and share resources without losing any of the quality residents have come to expect. It’s not exactly full-scale regionalization, but it’s certainly an opportunity to find some savings without compromising the quality of the program.

Education

As the conversation surrounding inequality and opportunity becomes more of a focus across the country, a growing body of research acknowledges the power of education and youth focused programs to foster upward mobility. Many municipal leaders announced policies aimed at closing the educational achievement gap between groups defined by socioeconomic status, race, ethnicity and gender.

Pension Plans

Another area municipalities would rather not have to rethink, but difficult budget times require creative solutions. Financial officers and elected officials should at least examine whether the older model of the defined benefit plan could be transitioned into a 401(k)-style retirement plan. According to a recent report by the Yankee Institute, certain Connecticut municipalities of varying sizes have tried this in recent years, working with public employees to find solutions that work for all sides, and have begun to see some positive results. Again, it may not be the answer for everyone, but it deserves a look.

No one can say for certain when Connecticut’s budget woes will end, but regardless of the timeframe, municipalities can use this as a chance to find creative, cost-saving solutions. This will give them a bit more control over issues that impact them and possibly give them a clearer course of action in order to be better prepared for any decisions the state imposes on them.

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