Is it time for the towns in Connecticut to regionalize? To return to a system in which public services are shared? Is it time for towns to give up local control?
Dan Klau, a leading Connecticut First Amendment and open-government lawyer, says “the answer is yes.”
Klau made his observation in an interview on WNHH radio’s “Legal Eagle” program.
In light of the current state, city and town budget crises, he asked, “Why should 169 towns, which is the number of towns in Connecticut, each have their own fire department with their own fire chief and their own police chief and so on and so forth.”
Klau said he believes it is time for regionalization, a process by which towns would be able to share some services on a regional basis. This could also include combining some schools between districts. School costs typically account for the greater part of a town’s annual budget.
Klau is not alone.
Gary LeBeau of East Hartford, who served as a state representative in the legislature from 1991 to 1995 and then served as a state senator from 1997 to 2015, wrote in a recent Hartford Courant op-ed: “Connecticut’s problems boil down to just one word: redundancy, the disease of redundancy—the state’s 169 cities and towns.
“Every town has its own municipal government. That means that every town has its own parks and recreation, public works, library, elderly services, housing, inspections, tax collection, legal advisers, economic development, health services, fire, police and, of course, the biggest and most expensive of all, the school system. Each school system bureaucracy has its own superintendent, assistant superintendents, deputies, etc. The school systems usually consume about 70 percent of the town’s budget,” Le Beau wrote. “The redundancy is in the management structure. Its costs are enormous.
“What if we could take these municipalities and consolidate them into eight entities? Hundreds of millions of dollars, indeed I believe billions of dollars could be saved by eliminating redundant management in the municipalities and in the schools. Could this be done? Has it been done elsewhere? Yes, all over the country. The entities are called counties.”
Following are excerpts from the WNHH conversation with Klau:
Klau: “There is no question, no question, that regionalization would lead to a certain efficiencies. The magnitude of those efficiencies I suppose is debatable, but there is no question that it would be more cost effective. The problem is Connecticut has a long, long history of local control.”
WNHH: And steady habits.
Klau: That is one area where there are very steady habits and towns are extraordinarily reluctant to give up control over things like where they have fire stations.
“But school enrollment is declining.”
Yeah, and some people say demographics are destiny. Is it destiny? Our destiny? I don’t know. But, that may ultimately force the issue. Declining enrollment particularly in public schools may force schools to think about consolidating and regionalizing. There are many people who will argue that the towns, over the past 6 years of the Malloy administration have largely been held harmless from the fiscal problems that the state is facing.
That’s probably true.
You know, the state has continued to provide them with a level of funding that was consistent with past years, and the argument goes that that has allowed the towns to avoid making the very difficult choices about pensions, and wages, and size of municipal work force and so on, that the state has had to make with its employees. So some would argue that forcing the towns to finally confront the fiscal reality that the state is confronting could actually lead to more savings at the local level.
To listen to the full WNHH “Legal Eagle” Dan Klau interview, which covered a range of legal topics, click on or download the above audio file.