The Connecticut Conference of Municipalities (CCM) lauds Gov. Ned Lamont for the collaboration his administration has had with local governments across the state as the COVID-19 pandemic hit Connecticut; but it is also important to be able to criticize our leaders even when we think they are otherwise doing a great job and are our allies.
As Gov. Lamont has said so well, “Mayors and first selectmen are the closest on the ground in each community, and the best approach for our state is to have a unified strategy on COVID-19 with our city and town leaders.” Gov. Lamont and his administration have consulted with CCM and our members extensively on the executive orders issued. And CCM has expressed strong support for the governor’s executive orders; and they are providing invaluable assistance to towns throughout the coronavirus pandemic.
But as another statesman, Winston Churchill, has pointed out, “Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfills the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.”
CCM and its member municipal leaders must now register a strong criticism and sense of disappointment, with our ally, Gov. Lamont, over the state now expending $2 million for eight weeks of work by four consultants from the Boston Consulting Group, billing out at $140,000 a week on planning to help reopen Connecticut as the COVID-19 virus is slowing down.
What do they know that we don’t?
The “we” could be a working group comprised of CCM leaders, the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, General Assembly leaders, a top public health expert and maybe a local government planner to assist with land use regulations. We could get the same job done better and cheaper; and use the $2 million in federal money for something more productive than paying “consultants” to learn.
It is also disappointing that the governor brushed off the $2 million cost by saying the federal government is paying for it anyway. The $2 million could have gone to help with the struggles our towns and nonprofit service providers are enduring through this pandemic.
Connecticut towns and cities still have no idea if or how the state plans to share CARES Act funds with communities. Specifically, the federal stimulus package contained a Coronavirus Relief Fund, which is for state and local government expenditures regarding the pandemic. Connecticut received $1.38 billion from the fund. The law left it up to states to decide if and how much financial aid to provide to municipalities with populations under 500,000.
Many states are entering into agreements to share funds with their towns and cities. So far, not Connecticut, a state containing three of the hardest hit areas in the country (Fairfield, New Haven and Hartford counties).
In order to comply with social distancing measures, towns have had to pay for laptops so town employees can work from home. Municipalities have also spent thousands of dollars on protective gear for firefighters, police officers and others essential employees who must show up to work every day. Police, fire and EMS overtime continues to climb as do unemployment compensation costs. The coronavirus shutdown also has eliminated needed revenue from parks and recreation fees that would have increased during the warmer months.
Just look to our neighbor, Massachusetts. Municipalities there are receiving very clear guidance from the state on how they can access funds to pay for local costs incurred in responding to the COVID-19 breakout. Aside from large local governments — Boston and Plymouth County, where funds have been sent directly — the expectation is that the state will use their federal funds for its own expenses and those in all other municipalities. Massachusetts is setting aside 25% of its Coronavirus funds for its towns and cities.
It is sad that CCM was compelled to join the “Big 7” coalition (the National Governors Association, National League of Cities, and five other national government associations) to fight for more pandemic-related federal funding when the funds already allocated are being used for these types of unnecessary contracts.
Connecticut towns are continuing to push for direct federal funding for all local governments. But the clock continues to move forward on closing out municipal budgets for this fiscal year and enacting the most responsible town budgets for the new year beginning July 1.
In response to the novel coronavirus, federal fiscal aid to towns and cities must be massive and immediate, CCM and several key groups argue, but Connecticut municipalities have yet to see any direct federal coronavirus stimulus money. The state needs to share federal pandemic-related aid with local governments – now.
Even though the rest of the world is hunkering down under the pandemic, all municipal services must continue. Connecticut municipal leaders are burdened by unexpected pandemic-related expenses while their revenues shrink. Yet no Connecticut municipality has yet to see a dime of funding though CARES Act aid that the state has received for municipalities.
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Joe DeLong is Executive Director of the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities.