As officials from three cities across Connecticut came together Sunday afternoon, one thing became clear: Everyone has the same problems.
“Things are bad in Bridgeport, financially,” Bridgeport Council President Thomas McCarthy asserted, expounding on a laundry list of crises: budget deficits, decreased state funding, possible layoffs, potential tax raises and bankrupt local businesses.
“But other than that, things are fantastic,” McCarthy joked.
And each of the nine elected officials agreed that the same could be said for their respective cities.
At Sunday’s meeting of the Connecticut Elected Local Leaders Organized in City Hall, five New Haven aldermen, three Bridgeport representatives and the Board of Representatives president from Stamford came together to discuss methods of alleviating the financial challenges facing their cities. The organization was formed just over a year ago. The first item on their agenda: increased funding from the state budget for the coming two fiscal years, which is to be released by Gov. M. Jodi Rell next month.
“We have to think of ways that we can begin to lobby state and federal delegations to figure out what the cities need, and to help us function independently,” Ward 26 Alderman Sergio Rodriguez said.
To that end, the CELLO members decided to hold a press conference in Hartford next week where they will outline their requests as the state writes a new budget. Additionally, members said, they hope to bring together five Congressional representatives to meet as a group with the members of CELLO and discuss how the state can best meet municipalities’ needs.
These needs, the CELLO members agreed, include increased funding for fixed costs such as police expenses and public schools, support for local social services, and more flexible options for increasing tax revenue. New Haven, in particular, has experienced the ill-effects of decreased state funding; last year, the city was forced to postpone scheduled school renovations and relied on private funding to keep the city’s overflow homeless shelters open throughout the winter.
In addition to a quest for state funding, Aldermanic President Carl Goldfield said he hopes some of the funds from President Barack Obama’s proposed job stimulus package will find its way to local governments, rather than being distributed exclusively to state entities.
“Someone’s got to trust us with the money,” Goldfield insisted. “They have to trust that we can spend funds in accordance with the needs of our city. We’re big boys and girls here.”
Goldfield said CELLO also hopes to work with Mayor John DeStefano Jr. and the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities in order to call on the state government to back municipal initiatives. But it is important that state officials hear from more people than just the mayors, Goldfield said.
“They need to hear some other voices, s0me local elected officials,” Goldfield said. “I think it’s worthwhile that they start to hear from us directly. Maybe we’ll catch their attention.”
Last week, Rell projected a budget deficit of close to $922 million for the current fiscal year.