New Canaan among towns to take hit to ECS funding
Updated 9:21 am, Friday, January 6, 2017
NEW CANAAN — After further cuts to state funding were announced, town officials are struggling with how to fill the financial hole.
New Canaan, like much of Fairfield County, will be among Connecticut municipalities expected to see a 25 to 90 percent reduction in Education Cost Sharing grant funding from the state. The decision was announced in a Dec. 29 letter from Benjamin Barnes, secretary of the Connecticut Office of Policy and Management. In the letter, Barnes explains the state’s 25 wealthiest communities would receive cuts of up to 90 percent in fiscal year 2017.
Based on Barnes’ recommendations, New Canaan would see a 50 percent cut, down from $678,845, as projected in August 2016, to a total grant of $406,683.
According to New Canaan First Selectman Robert Mallozzi III, there are two ways to offset the cuts.
“Either efficiencies are found at the Board of Education level, or that shortfall gets in the tax rate. It doesn’t necessarily mean an increase in the mill rate. We work in town to find efficiencies. But it could mean other things we have planned to do operationally as a town and Board of Education may not happen,” Mallozzi said.
He added: “It’s not a surprise. We were told we’d get 50 percent and that’s what we’re getting. That’s $330,000 less this year than we had hoped to get, and if you look at the last couple years, it’s a significant drop. The burden ultimately falls on the taxpayers and school administration. It’s a true hardship.”
For distressed school districts like Bridgeport, Danbury and Stamford, the cut will be held to $250,000 each.
State OPM Director Benjamin Barnes said the power to make the cut was built into the budget adopted by the General Assembly last spring.
“The numbers are close to what we held back last year, although this year the money is being held out of the (Education Cost Sharing formula) instead of a combination of ECS and a (Payment in Lieu of Taxes) to municipalities,” Barnes said.
In addition to education reductions, the state is planning to cut $30 million in bonding from municipal construction projects.
In Darien, a 47 percent cut is expected, down from $775,553, to a total grant of $406,683.
“What this means for Darien is less revenue available to offset budget increases from non-education expenses and ultimately, if town-side spending is not carefully managed, would result in a tax (mill rate) increase for the coming fiscal year,” Darien First Selectman Jayme Stevenson said via email on Tuesday. Stevenson added that, in addition to the ECS cuts, Darien received word that its Local Capital Improvement grant of $111,194 would also be eliminated.
Not all municipalities, however, are losing out on funding to the same extent. According to Barnes, the state’s 68 poorest communities would lose 1 percent or less of their funding, so as to ensure resources are still available to schools in lower income parts of the state.
Elsewhere in Fairfield County, Bridgeport, for instance, stands to lose just 0.1 percent of its funding. Norwalk and Stamford would lose 2.2 and 2.3 percent, respectively, of their ECS funding.
According to Stevenson, the state’s choice to continue to divert ECS funds away from towns like New Canaan and Darien is undue.
“The loss of revenue from the state will require local taxpayers to bear the full burden of the cost of education and government services,” Stevenson said. “While I understand the state’s dire fiscal condition, I cannot support, through the elimination of ECS funding for certain districts, their abdication of their fundamental responsibility to educate our children … all children regardless of geography.”
And though Mallozzi said he is disappointed, because of his faith in the ability of New Canaan’s elected officials, he is not disheartened.
“The only good news is we’re a smart town with a lot of good people on our Board of Education, Board of Finance and Town Council who were never banking on that money,” Mallozzi said.
“We’re smart enough to know that the state is in horrible shape and we were going to suffer a hit.”