Tag Archives: county government

CT’s Regionalization: Cost-Savings and Service Sharing

Originally published at Global Site Plans

connecticut-capitol

Unlike most of the United States, Connecticut has no system of county governance. While a regional, “county” government once existed (ceasing in 1960), it didn’t hold much power and had very few functions. Under the laws of the state constitution, 169 towns hold powers similar to that of a city and manage their own administration. To meet the cost-sharing, regional needs of local governments, Connecticut passed a law in 1947 “allowing two or more contiguous towns with planning commissions to form a regional planning authority.” The statute called for these regional planning authorities to be:

“Based on studies of physical, social, economic and governmental conditions and trends and shall be designed to promote with the greatest efficiency and economy the coordinated development of the region within its jurisdiction and the general welfare and prosperity of its people.”

In 1948 the first new regional planning authority, covering New Haven and a few of its suburbs began operation. Planning authorities would gain more importance in Connecticut in 1954 when new federal grants for projects in cities and regional areas became available, but required that administration be done by official regional agencies. Within twelve years of creation, New Haven’s Regional Planning Authority of the South Central Region served all of the towns in its region, fifteen in total. However, there were holdouts to regional planning authorities and a reluctance to mandate all towns to participate in one.

After the state outlined boundaries for fifteen different planning regions in 1957 in an attempt to make them “logical and economical,” there was often contention and negotiation about which planning region a town was allowed to belong to.  Before that legislation, town contiguity in a planning region could theoretically stretch across Connecticut. To encourage participation, incentives were offered, and in some cases, sanctions imposed. Very often, the state would mandate specific activities be regionalized, or perform the project planning itself, overriding the input of the non-participating towns.

ccm-website-screenshot

Two state-wide groups supplement the regional planning agencies and provide cities and towns with management and technical assistance, research, and lobbying efforts. The Connecticut Conference of Municipalities (CCM), founded in 1966; and Connecticut Council of Small Towns (COST), founded in 1975, are governed by boards of elected officials of the member municipalities. CCM currently represents roughly 90% of Connecticut towns, and is a powerful lobby at the capitol. COST, represented by first selectmen, mayors and managers, has also been successful, writing and lobbying the legislation which established the state’s Small Town Economic Assistance Program.

Over time, three types of regional planning organizations have evolved under Connecticut General Statutes: the regional planning agency, the regional council of elected officials, and the newer regional councils of government (COGS), which provide cities and towns a wider ranges of services than the earlier regional planning agencies.  The state has recently consolidated the fifteen regional planning agencies into nine, as part of recommendations negotiated with CCM, COST, and the COGS. As of January 1, 2015, the municipalities within these nine regions must adopt local ordinances to join a single Regional Council of Governments in each of these nine regions.

How is regionalized planning approached where you live? What is the role of government?

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Connecticut: Counties, But No County Government

Originally published at Global Site Plans

Antique Connecticut Map shows borders of state's counties

Most of New England is made up of counties that predate the Declaration of Independence. However, these counties exist largely as geographical regions, with few reminders of their former county governments besides old courthouses, maps, and online administrative forms. The neighboring state of Rhode Island abandoned their county governance over 100 years earlier than Connecticut. Vermont and Massachusetts maintain a weak county government similar to what Connecticut once had, but theirs, too, is growing weaker.

At its height, Connecticut’s county government was responsible for liquor licenses, and services such as roads, jails, and courts. At the time county level government was abolished in Connecticut, it had little power, and was considered an ineffective “patronage” system of appointed commissioners. Many services that define county governance in other states were delegated to the state or towns.

In 1959, a Democrat-controlled legislature voted to end county government, and serving no other purpose but to manage county jails, the last elected position of county governance, the sheriff, was finally discarded in 2000. It’s a popular opinion that county governance is unnecessary because Connecticut is a small state.

It is often said that “Connecticut is split up into 169 little fiefdoms,” meaning that local governance is the responsibility of the separate 169 cities and towns. Each town provides its own services through taxation. If a small town is unable to operate an expensive service like a high school, it coordinates with surrounding towns for that service to be provided. To keep local tax rates as reasonable as possible, periphery services such as ambulances, animal control and tree maintenance are managed by multiple towns. This coordination is facilitated by Planning Regions, or “Regional Councils of Government,” commonly referred to in Connecticut as COGs.

Connecticut map showing OPM Re-designated Planning Regions

In Connecticut, COGs have developed as a way to help towns and municipalities looking for ways to reduce their operating costs. Regionalism is now a focus of state government and in an effort to perform more efficiently, the number of COGS has been reduced from 15 to 9 within the past few years. Interestingly, this is nearly the same number as counties, with similar geographic boundaries. In lieu of cost pinches, decreased town-level civic participation, and other considerations, I often wonder if regionalism could further be applied to school boards. In many states, school boards are the dominion of county government.

Occasionally, proposals to re-enact county government come forward, and given the fact that the COGs perform many of the functions of county governments elsewhere–and receive more responsibility every year–it might be worthwhile to ponder their need in Connecticut and what they should look like.

What does county government look like where you live? Does your county government have a large decision making role?

Credits: Images and Data linked to sources.

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