This Sunday’s Courant contained an excellent editorial about regionalism as a possible strategy for addressing the financial challenges our numerous local governments face. It is a very helpful piece because it not only introduces & defines the idea, but also looks at pros & cons. Finally, the article cites other US metropolitan regions that are already making strides with this strategy and articulates first steps for Greater Hartford.
Town finances impact all of us (even renters) through property taxes. They are a hot button issue for the traditional pro-school and anti-tax groups that emerge every time a budget comes up for debate. There is always lots of rhetoric, and there is sometimes cooperation and compromise, but there are rarely constructive suggestions or discussions that address the underlying issues. Which is not surprising because the established rules of the game are that everything is local.
The Greater Hartford Real Estate Blog has written about the financial stresses that local governments face on a couple of occasions. One post focused on West Hartford’s ongoing budget situation, while the other was more general and looked at the difficult economics of running a town. We see financial trouble on the horizon at all levels of government. And like many others have not been sure how best to work within the rules.
Rather than continuing to beat each other up at a local level, another way to address the challenges is to team up at a state and/or regional level and try to work together. The Courant has stepped to the front by making an initial proposal that includes the following:
1. Launch a study at the state level to identify whether or not core services can be more efficiently delivered on a regional basis (with the focus on federal metropolitan areas rather than counties).
2. Begin dialogs about regionalism at the town level immediately, and launch a major education campaign if the state study shows meaningful savings are possible.
3. Create incentives at the state level to encourage towns to participate.
4. Consider enhancing the existing entities that already think on a regional level so they can play more of a leadership role.
Regionalism is a new arrow in our quiver as we all go through the local budget balancing process. It joins tax hikes, reduced services, begging for more state money, and increased efficiency as the primary tools for making sure that town revenue matches town expenses. And of the five, it seems most likely to make a meaningful long-term impact.
So give the editorial a quick read. Talk about it with your friends, neighbors and coworkers. And if it seems as promising to you as it does to us, tell your elected officials to reach out to their counterparts in other towns.