Tag Archives: New England

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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The Unfinished Quinebaug River Trail

Originally published at Global Site PlansQuinebaug River Trail through trees in the fall, Danielson, Connecticut

The Quinebaug River Trail* in the Danielson borough of Killingly, Connecticut is a well-maintained, 9ft. wide asphalt bike path that mostly parallels the Quinebaug River. It extends southward for approximately five miles, all the way to the Plainfield town line. From a certain standpoint, the path is a complete and a total success. While town planners might see their obligation to the trail as done, there is plenty to improve. This article’s criticism is in the spirit of addressing the longterm needs of this local prize.

The Quinebaug River Trail’s most commonly used parking lot, located on a curve, on a stretch of Route 12, near Route 6 and the Interstate off-ramp, is dangerous to enter and exit. Signs clearly remind you of a VERY DANGEROUS intersection, and it takes a good amount of time to be able to safely leave. Other lots exist, but this is the only one that puts you right on the trail without having to cross one of the busy roads mentioned above. Safer pedestrian crossings are necessary for those locations. Killingly may even want to reconsider this parking lot’s role as a trailhead/hub.

While this parking location is attached to youth baseball fields, they are dilapidated and adjacent to a waste water treatment plant. You must drive the entire length of the plant in order to reach the trail. Once at the parking lot, you face a chain-link fence and barbed wire, which surrounds an abandoned industrial operation next-door. It would be a coup for the trail if that land were to become available and remediated. My hope is that with completion of new ballfields just a mile away, that Killingly has something better in mind for this spot—at the very least, a safer entrance.

Route 12 Quinebaug River Trailhead, Danielson, Connecticut

Currently the southern trail abruptly ends, blocked off and diverting into a private (or semi-private?) cul-de-sac in the town of Plainfield. From Google Maps, a footpath is clearly seen continuing along the Quinebaug, but no trail construction is apparent. It would seem that any further trail construction is in the hands of the town of Plainfield. I intend to follow up on this matter with the town. On all of their maps, the East Coast Greenway Association shows a connection to both of these areas as ‘under development’. No timetable or project information is available.

If the trail were to be extended, two miles south of the cul-de-sac trailhead is the village of Wauregan, and another two miles downriver is the larger village, Moosup (both are villages of Plainfield).  Someday, the Quinebaug River Trail could provide a safe and convenient bicycle route connecting these places to Danielson. If trail spurs are within budget, Quinebaug Lake is ¼ mile away, and Old Furnace State Park lies just beyond that. Hopefully those connectivity considerations are not an oversight.

Do bike paths connect to destinations where you live? Would you bike more if they did? What recent bike improvements have been made where you live? Share your city’s stories in the comments below.

*This post discusses the “Southern Trail.”

Credits: Images by Dan Malo. Data linked to sources.

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Religion & Slaves: 1600’s Atlantic Coast

Atlantic-America-North-CoastMap of New Netherland, Virginia, and New England by Joan Vinckeboons (1639)

The religions mentioned herein were persecuted or outlawed in 1600’s Europe.

Boston, the “City on the Hill” was founded by Puritans in 1630 to mostly to serve god.  Other religions soon occupied New England, themselves also seeking freedom. The Back Bay was used through the 1640’s for the trade of seafood, slaves, and sugar. This challenged the Puritanical mores and ethics of “a just price for goods” to mitigate the “sway” of trade.

In the 1660’s, backlash from worldly gain forced many of Boston’s wealthy traders and religious dissenters elsewhere. Puritans left Boston earlier, settling New Haven in 1638, a slow-growing planned community. Many Quaker and Jewish merchants moved their fleets to the harbor of Newport, expanding their role in the slave trade and the manufacture of rope and sails.

Amsterdam began as Dutch fur post in 1625 and became a safe haven for the persecuted Jews of Portugal and Spain. In 1664, the British take New Amsterdam and rename it New York. Charleston was settled in 1670 by English Bermudans along secular lines to be a “great port towne.” It would attract a diverse lot of people trading rice, lumber, and African slaves.

The wealthy Quaker, William Penn, was granted land by Charles for debts owed to Penn’s father. He established Pennsylvania in 1682, a distance from Europe and New England as a refuge for Quakers. Considered a “green country town” in it’s early days, by 1800, Philadelphia and it’s suburbs would be the biggest city in North America.

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New England’s Flirtation w/Independence

pressed via the Hartford Courant:
Hartford Convention of 1814 started secession, states’ rights talks in New EnglandA Map of New England from 1830

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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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