In 1960, Connecticut abolished its eight county governments, citing them as antiquated and redundant. Counties have been reduced to lines on a map for forty-five years. Now a group of Fairfield County politicians have proposed bringing them back.
The region's municipalities should devise a strategy to work together to leverage state government for what they need, because they're not getting it now, several area chief elected officials said Tuesday at a Greater Bridgeport Regional Business Council breakfast.
[Bridgeport Mayor John] Fabrizi believes that county government is one way to help promote regional cooperation.
A form of county government — which was abolished in 1960 — would enable towns and cities to share vital emergency management resources and streamline what can be expensive local programs, he said.
In fact, Connecticut is one of the few states without county government, putting it at odds with a federal government set up to work with — and give money to — counties.
So the state's towns and cities lose out on funding that could ease local property taxes, the officials said.
"I truly believe that [county government] is an issue that needs to be explored," Fabrizi said. (Drew)
The basic problem is that Connecticut is split up into 169 little fiefdoms, each with its own structure of services. Regionalization of some services could eliminate redundancy and help to lower high property taxes. Cities like Bridgeport, which have a high demand for services but a shrinking property tax base, would benefit the most from such an arrangement (see my earlier post for more detail: Hartford Demand for Services Outstrips Revenue).
Counties sort of work this way. However, counties' primary function is to oversee and provide services to territory that isn't governed by municipal governments. For those who have lived in New England all their lives the thought of land that isn't safely within a town border is alien, but most of the rest of the country functions this way. Incorporated towns become a rarity west of the Hudson River, replaced by a confusing (to us) tangle of counties, various classes of city, boroughs and villages.
Our counties, such as they are, probably shouldn't be revived. For one, they're just too big. Hartford County is a good example of this. What does Enfield have in common with Rocky Hill? If we are to head towards regionalized services (and possibly some sort of regional governments) they should be appropriately sized for our dense, closely-packed population. Hartford and its inner ring suburbs of Newington, West Hartford, Bloomfield, Windsor, South Windsor, East Hartford and Wethersfield could pool services, and it would make a lot of sense (you could expand the region to include New Britain and Manchester, too) because those towns are already tightly interconnected.
Secondly, county lines split communities that might otherwise work well together (like Meriden and Southington, for example). If we're going to try regionalized services, we should do it in a way that makes sense for the 21st Century instead of following lines drawn on a map three hundred years ago.
Is this an answer to our property tax problems? It could be part of one. It might be worth trying, although getting towns to surrender even an inch of their soverignty to regional governments would be difficult at best. The alternative is to watch property taxes continue to climb as the demand for services increases, with no end in sight.
Drew, Daniel. "Counties could be regional strategy." Connecticut Post 28 September, 2005.