More funding for education, as well as increased hiring of paraprofessionals for public schools, top the wish list for the state’s cities and towns as the General Assembly gathers on Wednesday for its 22-week budget-setting session.
The Connecticut Conference of Municipalities on Tuesday also requested more money for communities that support tax-exempt properties under the payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) program; and asked to raise the threshold for the so-called prevailing wage to allow for lower-paid workers to participate on some local contracts.
The CCM, which represents 168 of the 169 towns and cities, also stressed the need to attract more professional firefighters and EMT personnel. Filling out the top-six requests will be what amounts to be the CCM’s annual request to allow towns and cities to advertise online for contractors and avoid what the organization describes as expensive advertisements in local newspapers. Vernon, northeast of Hartford, is the lone community not represented by the CCM.
“Town and city leaders believe these proposals will help enhance particular essential services in their communities while at the same time providing fiscal relief from the level of local property taxation needed to pay for critical local services,” said Joe DeLong, CCM executive director and CEO.
“These proposals are critical, common-sense initiatives to make life better and more affordable for Connecticut families and residents,” said Tom Dunn, mayor of Wolcott and the current president of CCM, in a joint statement with DeLong. “After careful consideration and input by leaders from towns across Connecticut, we urge the General Assembly to pass these proposals in the 2023 legislative session.”
The organization, which lobbies in the State Capitol, reported that local property taxes pay for more than 50 percent of the $12.3 billion annual cost for public education. It called for an accelerated increase in the state Education Cost Sharing grant formula, as well as more funding for other educational programs and special education.
Retirements and attrition were blamed for the hard time that school districts are reporting in the hiring of skilled and certified paraprofessionals. The CCM recommends the enhancement of a program aimed at increasing those paraprofessionals, and then providing better mentorship programs and pathways to make teacher training and certification easier for them to become the next generation of public school educators.
Property tax exemptions statewide represent about 12 percent of net grand lists, but in nearly a dozen towns, exempt property including hospitals and universities represent 20 percent of property and in a few other towns more than 50 percent. The CCM notes that the exemptions affect virtually every town, with non-exempt taxpayers charged more than they would if there were no such exemptions.
The so-called prevailing wage rates for local labor performing municipal renovations have not been adjusted since 1991, continuing to raise financial burdens on local government for million-dollar projects. The CCM proposes raising the threshold from $100,000 to $500,000 for renovations and repairs for local public works projects and for new projects from the current $1 million to $3 million.
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