Special meeting Saturday: Selectmen to host senator, state reps

The Board of Selectmen will host Senator Toni Boucher and State Representatives Michael Ferguson (R-138) and John Frey (R-111) Saturday, Feb. 25, at 10 a.m. in the lower level conference room in Town Hall.

The only item on the agenda is "General Local Budget Discussion; Impact of Governor’s Proposed Budget."

First Selectman Rudy Marconi spoke at a recent selectmen's meeting about the nearly $4.4-million hit that Ridgefield would take next year under Governor Dannel Malloy’s proposed budget.

In reaction, the Board of Selectmen sketched out a three-part plan to fight back against what they see as an unfair targeting of wealthier suburban communities.

The board gave Marconi the go-ahead to pursue three steps:

  • Set up a meeting with State Rep. John Frey and State Senator Toni Boucher to get legislators’ thoughts on the governor’s budget proposal and how best to respond;
  • Contact leaders from other affluent towns hit hard in the governor’s plan, to see if there’s interest in bringing a class action lawsuit against it;
  • Explore the idea of applying pressure on Hartford by holding back a portion of the conveyance taxes on real estate sales that Ridgefield and other towns collect for the state.

Consider step one checked off.

“This is targeting Fairfield County, and that’s wrong,” said Selectman Bob Hebert on Feb. 8.

“We’re going to start throwing tea in the Norwalk River,” added Selectwoman Maureen Kozlark.

Malloy’s plan

The state has a two-year — or biennial — budget, and on Feb. 8 Malloy put forward a $40.6-billion budget proposal for 2017-18 and 2018-19.

The $18-billion budget for next year, 2017-18, proposes about $1.4 billion in spending cuts, along with about $320 million in new revenues, to help close a $1.7-billion budget gap.

Among the $1.4 billion in spending cuts is $408 million to be gained by transferring a third of the state cost for the pension plan that serves all public school teachers in Connecticut. The $4.4-million pension payment by Ridgefield that outraged the selectmen is the town’s pension payment under the plan.

Among the cuts in the governor’s plan is $700 million in yet-to-be negotiated concessions from 15 unions — backed by the threat of laying off some 4,200 state employees, about a tenth of the state workforce, if a package of concessions can’t be reached. The planned labor savings would rise to $860 million in the second year of the biennial budget.

The revenue increase in the governor’s budget plan also includes proposals to raise tobacco taxes, start taxing hospitals’ real estate, and eliminate taxpayers’ ability to claim a tax credit for local property taxes when they pay state income taxes.

As if anticipating the sort of reaction his proposals got from Ridgefield’s selectmen, Malloy’s budget address to the legislature contained a plea for unity.

“As we negotiate this budget, we should remember that we are all in this together,” Malloy said. “It’s more than just how my town or my community or my family did. It’s also neighboring towns, neighboring communities, neighboring families, as well. We will rise or fall together as one Connecticut.”

Hard-hit suburbs

As they discussed the governor’s budget Wednesday night, the selectmen weren’t in an “all in this together” mood. Among the governor’s budget goals is to increase support of troubled schools in hard-pressed urban areas, but the selectmen feared the local consequences of the budget would fall hard on Ridgefield schools.

“We debate education every year in this town,” Marconi said. “The educational impact he’s trying to solve for the cities, he’s made it worse for the suburbs.”

“He’s going to bring down the education level statewide,” said Hebert.

“It seems to be not just ‘not fair’ but there seems to be a legal question,” Marconi said.

While Selectman Hebert’s assertion the budget proposal is “targeting Fairfield County” might be disputed by the governor, there are clearly winners and losers among various towns and cities, and Fairfield County’s wealthy suburbs don’t do well.

In addition to Ridgefield’s payment, Wilton would send $2.4 million to Hartford, New Canaan would send $2.6 million, Darien $3.6 million, Weston $1.5 million, Redding $506,000, and Greenwich $5.2 million.

At the same time, the governor’s budget would give a net of $322 million in state money to Hartford, $52 million to Danbury, $27 million to Norwalk, and $26 million to Stamford.

The idea of approaching other hard-hit towns about the possibility of a class action lawsuit seemed to have unanimous support among Ridgefield’s selectmen, as did the idea of withholding the state share of conveyance taxes.

Conveyance taxes are a levy on real estate sales that the town clerk’s office collects from the sellers when property transfers are filed. The town gets 0.25% of the sales price, and the state gets 0.75% of the sales price on properties up to $800,000, and 1.25% of sales over $800,000.

The town budget shows its share of conveyance taxes at between $700,000 and $800,000 a year lately, so Ridgefield must be collecting well over $2 million a year for the state in conveyance taxes.

Marconi said rather than forwarding the collections periodically, Ridgefield would bank them in a special account, let them collect interest, and see if the state misses getting its money — an attempt to put some financial teeth in the verbal protests against the governor’s budget.

Marconi said he might approach other area first selectmen about ways to fight the budget plan — particularly with the class action lawsuit — at an upcoming meeting of the Western Connecticut Council of Governments.

“Do I have the support of the board?” he said.

There was no vote, but unanimous verbal assent.