Sunday, December 03, 2006

Thoughts on Regionalism

I wonder what would happen if the regional councils, shown below, had more power than they currently do?

(image from Wikipedia)
Some counties in Massachusetts (Hampshire, for instance) have formed organizations similar to our regional councils, but have done things like purchased insurance in bulk and worked on combining services. They elect the members of their regional council at municipal elections.

What if each region pooled its resources for, say, road services (plowing!), social services or even education? What if each town gave up a little sovereignty for financial stability?

Or would that just add another layer of bureaucracy and expense?

31 comments:

cgg said...

I think the latter may be true. Just look at last week's NYT article on property taxes. The article blamed County government for part of the reason Westchester property taxes were so much higher than Fairfield.

Anonymous said...

Awful idea-- would end up with the suburbs further subsidizing the inner cities. Democrats in Hartford are already redistributing wealth in CT (causing a flight of the middle class to other states). Regionalization would exacerbate this trend.

CT is twenty years will be enclaves of rich and poor-- the middle class is being squeezed out by high taxes, lackluster job growth (because of high taxes and regulation), and high cost of living.

Regionalization will only accelerate these trends, as regions will essentially hand over inner city problems to the suburbs to fix.

Genghis Conn said...

And yet we can't continue to exist as 169 fiefdoms.

Anonymous said...

CT is about the size of a large California county both in area and population

No more layers. It's an excuse for more taxes. If localities want to set up sewer , school or fire districts, god bless them. Those will be done for real efficiencies, not liberal "screw the 'burbs" pipedreams

Genghis Conn said...

I still think that municipalities working together is one of the ways we can reduce property taxes. But maybe it needs to start smaller than these regional councils on the map.

ALittleBitDramatic said...

I think there are varying levels of authority that you could give to regional governments, but a greater level of regional cooperation is absolutely necessary in Connecticut. Watching legislators fight each other like dogs for resources for their tiny tiny districts and/or tiny tiny muncipalities is crazy. No one ever works, for example, for an ecomonmic development project if the project is going to be located in the district next door. From watching them, you would think what goes on in one urban district would have no effect on what goes on in a neighboring suburban district.

Or maybe the legislators and CEOs of municipalities just need to learn to cooperate with each other. Then again, they still need to brihg home the goods to get elected, because the voters don't think regionally. Therein may lie the problem.

cgg said...

One area where I would like to see more cooperation is public transportation. But we need to get out of our deal with the MTA for that to happen.

Anonymous said...

Seventy percent of local property taxes goes to pay for local education. The only meaningful way to lower property taxes is to rationalize spending on eduction, which means taking on the teachers' union, most powerful union in the state. It won't happen with Democrats in control of the state legislature.

Anonymous said...

There is nothing right now to prevent towns from entering into an intermunicipal agreement (IMA) to share expenses and services. There is no need for another bureaucracy to force it.

Anonymous said...

CT has a long history of home rule. Residents like local control. Just look at the Boards of Education. Only the state social-engineers want to regiojnalize.

wtfdnucsubsailor said...

Right now, towns can ride State Contracts for purchasing items such as computer supplies, toilet paper, plow sand, etc. This is done through the various Council of Governments(COG). Towns can enter into mutual service agreements such as water, sewer, etc. In SE CT there is a move to negotiate combining 911 despatch centers to save some municipal funds. However, there are a number of hurdles to cross before that is a reality. Some towns have mutual water agreements and there is almost a solution to completely regionalize the water system while still maintaining the independence of the various towns. Towns and COGS are even permitted to enter into mutual economic development projects and share revenue. The problem is that no elected official would probably be reelected if he or she proposed a revenue sharing deal where the town or city would get revenue slightly less than if the town or city went at it alone even if the development benefited the entire region. I have heard it said that the solution is 'leadership and willingness to take the risk of not getting reelected' on the part of chief elected officials and other regional players. I also think it would take a strong voter education process to succeed. Secondary Education is definitely an area where regionalization can work if it can be sold to the voters. An example in SE CT is Norwich Free Academy (NFA) that provides high school education to a number of towns and cities in the northern portion of SE CT. Voters may not want to give up control of the local elementary school, but probably could be convinced that combining middle schools and high schools would be cost effective and not dilute the education process. By the way, Boards of Education may also take advantage of state negotiated pricing for their supplies. There is more regionalization that most folks realize but there is still not enough to keep taxes down in many towns. We have to remember that our 169 independent fiefdoms are really creatures of the state statutes and the legislature could change how cities and towns operate at their whim. I am sorry to see all the comments against regionalization above. Done correctly, it can keep taxes lower than otherwise may be the case and provide for a more efficient delivery of services such as snow plowing, trash pick up, etc.

Max Sklar said...

First I have a question - do these regional councils really exist? I've never heard of such a thing. What activities are currently involved in?

That said, I don't see why we can't reduce costs by having towns cooperate. Some towns share schools, don't they?

How will consolidation save money on things like trash pickup and snowplows? We'd still have to pay the same amount - as everyone needs to get their trashed picked up, and every road needs to be plowed. We wouldn't be reducing the number of roads or the amount of garbage.

Anonymous said...

One more level of Government means more taxes

Mirror said...

On the other hand - it might stem some of the growth in the "public " sector. I trust you all realize that "local control" is only a euphorism for local graft + making sure my kid gets on the team.

Anonymous said...

From what I understand, RHAM in Hebron has been a great success for regionalizing education. It may actually be a way to relieve property taxes.

Anonymous said...

""local control" is only a euphorism for local graft"

Town budgets are relatively small, relatively transparent, and there's not as much money to steal.

The big scandals have all been in large urban areas (predominately funded with state grants) or the state government itself.

Small towns are funded by the awful painful property tax which means real people care deeply about what gets spent.

Less spending in a government entity means less temptation

Authentic Connecticut Republican said...

>>Max Sklar said...
First I have a question - do these regional councils really exist?


Yes

I've never heard of such a thing.

They intentionally stay under the radar. Heaven forbid the press ever show up and report what they're up to - it would cause rioting in the streets. (A free press is only as good as that press; and they're collectively asleep at the switch.)


What activities are currently involved in?

They go after and receive loads and loads of federal grants. Whether anyone needs it or not. When I served on Central CT Reg. Planning we got in a pile of fresh cash for handicapped buses that no one had asked for. We set out to find someplace to put them, we actually had to talk some group into accepting them! The notion of sending the cash back (my idea) was met with much laughter, and ignored.

When you see bizarre multimillion road improvements where they really make little or no sense (and are often opposed by those that live on or near them) you can bet there was some federal dough that showed up thanks to some local political hacks and our illustrious regional planning agencies.


The above withstanding, there's all sorts of useful tasks that some regions do in fact do; it however makes up less than half of their time it appears.

Max Sklar said...

Thanks ACR.

So let me get this straight. It sounds like our state legislators pass the buck onto these unelected regional bodies who then spend our federal tax dollars.

I also sounds like we're kind of being forced into this by the federal government. If we didn't have these regional councils, these grants would go to other states, right? So we'd lose out.

I think change needs to come at a federal level. They have no buisiness funding grants for improving state roads. I'd rather they stop doing it, give us a tax cut giving the state a larger tax base, and have the state fund the road improvements. I think that's a moderate enough proposal - but I doubt congress will act any time soon.

As to local graft, I'm sure its rampant. But how can you convince me that this won't simply be replaced by regional graft? And I still don't see how we save on things like plowing and garbage pickup.

Don Pesci said...

When you buy a new tie, you should throw an old tie out. In this way, you avoid tie clutter. The same principle holds true with bureaucracies. Regional government should REPLACE town government; otherwise, you get bureaucratic clutter. And we don't need more of that. It's too expensive. The whole state of Connecticut is over 60, all the youn’ens having fled to greener pastures in the Carolinas, and we are on fixed incomes.

Anonymous said...

I served on my local regional planning agency for some period of time (SWRPA). It was filled with many political hacks who spent their time discussing nothing of consequence. Then, when the MPO's gained prominence, all of the elected officials wanted to do everything since they thought it would give them greater visibility.
A regional approach, while well sounding will be nothing more than a repetitive and dupliciative layer of bueracracy unless a multi-facted approach is taken that would lessen governmental tasks and function in another area.

Mirror said...

The problem with local graft is that is done below the radar and on a scale that makes it seem reasonable. Local school systems hire local people who show up at town meetings demanding increased budgets. Local empoyees and family members all have a financial interest in pushing bigger and more elaborate budgets and programs that put public money in their pockets. Contracts are handed out to local contractors who repeat the pattern. All these people pass around town, touting spending plans to unsophisticated voters and all of a sudden local budgets exploded and then we have calls for mere state taxes to reduce "local tax burden".

bluecoat said...

Cgg: County taxes in NY pay for Medicaid but the NYT never pointed that out. It accounts for the biggest difference. After that, NY County taxes pay for much of the criminal justice system. Both those items are paid for at the state level in CT.

And nobody mentioned the real problem with CT schools being the Superintendents and their insidiuos placement agencies and attorneys that screw with the cluelsss local Education Boards.

wtfdnucsubsailor said...

Unlike the Regional Planning Agencies discussed by some of the posters above, the Council of Governments are elected. The Council is made up of the Chief Elected Officials of the towns and cities that make up the region. The Regional Planning Agency staff then becomes the staff for the COG and answerable to the COG. The Chairman of the COG rotates among the Chief Elected Officials. In SE CT, the COG meetings are well covered by the NLON DAY and the NORWICH BULLETIN. I have been impressed with the amount of agreement of the room full of large egos that are the CEOs in their individual towns. There is a definite desire to look beyond their individual towns but still protect their individual towns. It is a clunky system, but typical of CT and New England Government. The regional staff is small and, at least in SE CT, effective in assisting towns with Plans of Development, nurturing regional solutions to such problems as affordable housing, transportation, and housing for the homeless. It is not really another level of government as much as a magnifier of the voices of the towns. The State bureaucrats tend to listen when 21 towns and cities speak as one voice for an issue than if each town speaks for itself.

bluecoat said...

from today's NYT Metro Section:Electric Costs May Go Up in Connecticut, but Not for All

bluecoat said...

CT's utility companies are abunch of con artists and it is the legislaure and people that they con; fromNews Release
Contacts: Deborah L. Beauchamp (Media) Jeffrey R. Kotkin (Investors)
Office: (860) 665-5423 (860) 665-5154
Northeast Utilities Completes Sale of Competitive Generation Business to Energy Capital Partners
it says “With this sale we have completed the divestiture of the vast majority of our competitive businesses,” said Charles W. Shivery, NU’s Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer. “The execution of this milestone is one more step in implementing our strategy to focus exclusively on regulated utility infrastructure. With the exit from the competitive businesses, we have a simplified business model, reduced business risk, greater financial flexibility and increased earnings visibility. Our focus is now solely on making regulated infrastructure capital investments to meet our customers’ energy needs. This includes investing more than $4 billion over the next five years in the region’s electric transmission and distribution infrastructure, a critical step toward improving New England’s energy reliability.”compared with the quote in the above NYT article:“We’re at the mercy of suppliers,” said Mitch Gross, a C. L. and P. spokesman. As part of a deregulation of the power industry a few years ago, the for-profit utilities were encouraged to shed generating facilities so they could focus on the transmission and distribution of energy.

You can find the same bullshit form UI:starting here if you want to spend the time.

bluecoat said...

sailor: you're knd of right; while some regions have a council of government (COGS) advised by a regional planning agency others have regioanl planning ORGANIZATIONS advised by a regioanl planning agency. Farifield County has the Southwestern Regional Planning org and the Greater Bridegport Planning org. I can't recall right now whetehr the Danbury region is an org or a COG. In any even, we'd be better off if all thre were combined but we don't need county government when CT is smaller than many cites and counties as already pointed out.

bluecoat said...

also of relevance is:Milford seeks school funding changes
FRANK JULIANO fjuliano@ctpost.com
as well as:How suburbs can help Bridgeport's burden, which is admittedly a litle off the wall in temrs of administration.

Anonymous said...

I see now bluecoat is an expert in special ed.

And if mirror thinks the answer to local graft is more statewide funding, why is it the less state money a town gets, the fewer pols get investigated?

Anonymous said...

looks like we'd have to cut Stafford off and send it to Massachusetts

bluecoat said...

Blogging is a hobby, 8:49; lighten up!!!

Anonymous said...

Regionalization is a related component of centralized government, and maybe we can compare this model to the similar the sales pitch that was promoted by many CT legislators who promoted de-regulation of our utility companies. The outcome has been monopolistic, and to the detriment of the conned public.

Those who support the anti-sovereignty movement: clintonistas, pro-israeli lobby, neo-liberals should use Mexico as a reference study guide to convince Americans we need to take up a third world form of government with totalitarian outcomes.