The prospect of losing as much as $1.5 million in aid from state budget cuts put on the table by Gov. Jodi Rell has city leaders up in arms.
“Municipal aid cuts would be disastrous for our city,” second-term city Councilor Cliff Block said Monday.
Mayor Art Ward postponed plans for a municipal budget kickoff meeting this week pending more information about the possible mid-year reduction in state aid that would leave Bristol short of assistance it’s already counting on.
City Councilor Ken Cockayne said, “It is awful that we are at the mercy of the state.”
City officials said the state could lift some of its costly mandates so that cities and towns could get by with less money, but given the cold shoulder that mandate relief has received in Hartford this year officials hold out little hope for help.
Rell has called a special legislative session for December 15 to close an anticipated $466 million budget cap. Among the measures she’s calling for is to slice municipal aid by 3 percent, a move she called “the most difficult cut of all.”
“In good times, municipalities shared in the state’s largesse,” the governor said. “In this economy, they must be part of the solution and so it is important they are represented at the table to help us make these difficult choices.”
The Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, which launched a radio campaign against the move Monday, said, “Cutting more state aid in mid-year wouldn’t be a savings. It would merely shift more of the state budget deficit onto local governments and local property taxpayers.”
It said cutting municipal aid means higher property taxes across the state.
City Comptroller Glenn Klocko said there is “so much hardship that’s coming” that it’s bound to hurt.
He said it is like somebody standing on the beach where things are pretty calm but seeing a wave building way out at sea – and rolling toward the short.
“You know it’s coming,” Klocko said, and the impact will be severe.
City Councilor Kate Matthews said that mandate relief is crucial.
“It is time for our State lawmakers to get serious about granting municipalities like Bristol relief from unfunded state legislative mandates. If they did this, Bristol would be better able to bear a 3% decrease in state funds,” Matthews said.
“Our state legislature should now fight for relief of unfunded mandates, which will not cost the state any moneys,” Block said. “This the only way our city could absorb these cuts.”
“For over two years ourmMayor,City Council, and the Board of Education have been pressuring our state legislators to pursue these mandates but to no avail. This is the wakeup call,” Block said.
Cockayne said he doesn’t blame Rell for proposing the cut since “our state seems to be hemorrhaging money. We have been borrowing to balance the budget and it was just a matter of time for cuts like this to happen.”
He said he hopes the curtailing mandates could be part of the answer.
Without mandate relief, a 3 percent cut “will likely result in cuts to city services that our residents cannot afford to lose,” Matthews said.
Cockayne said the city “must continue to be vigilant in addressing our own spending and we must look for other ways to balance our own budget.”
Ward said he guarantees a “vigilant, diligent and responsible means of addressing only the most essential services” in trying to cope with aid cuts.
“Nothing will be considered to be exempt from consideration,” the mayor said.
“The delivery of services other than those of absolute necessity will be curtailed or eliminated while others will experience extreme cutbacks,” Ward said.
Klocko said the Board of Finance “has a very difficult task before them. I don’t envy their position.”
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