Does CT need 169 municipalities? Some say merging makes sense

Prospect Avenue divides Hartford and West Hartford. (Stephen Busemeyer, CTMirror.org)

At a fall press conference about a plan to rebuild Hartford’s highways, Congressman John Larson praised the mayors of Hartford and East Hartford, Luke Bronin and Mike Walsh, for how well they were working together to get the major infrastructure initiative underway.

This prompted Bronin to say he was “ready to sign the merger agreement” joining the two communities. Walsh nodded and smiled.

To be clear, there is no merger agreement, proposal or plan to consolidate the two municipalities that are separated by the Connecticut River. Bronin was kidding.

What if he were serious?

Underlying his comment is a long-standing frustration — shared by Walsh and many others over the years — that Connecticut’s historic 169-town governance model is inefficient and expensive, inhibits economic development and could stand reexamination.

“We do it differently than most other places,” said Bronin in a subsequent interview. “We have no county government. Our municipalities are very small, so small that it is hard to make apples-to-apples comparisons with cities in other states.”

The problem is that “companies look for centers of population,” dense urban places. With a quilt of small towns, “we miss a lot of opportunities.” As if to make his point, Lego Group announced in January that it was leaving Enfield and moving to Boston.

Would the state benefit from having fewer but larger towns? Would such changes be politically viable?

The answers, at least a present, may be: Yes and No. But there is push for change, at least for the merging of municipal services, if not governments.

Hard sell

Combining a municipality with an adjoining city, or with a surrounding county (not possible here; Connecticut abolished its counties in 1960), has been notoriously challenging across the country. According to data provided by the National League of Cities, in the last 40 years there have been almost a hundred referendums or initiatives to consolidate cities with counties, and voters rejected three-fourths of them.


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Bryan Meek March 12, 2023 at 12:47 pm

County government will simply double taxes, depress the private sector, and guarantee the state’s insolvency. There will be no cost savings, simply more entitled workers who move paper around and create no value like we have right now. Look no further than Paid Family Leave, which created it’s own payroll deduction system rather than leveraging our existing ones in DRS to simply create another line item. Look no further than this new truck highway tax requiring truckers to report monthly, when we already had a system that they were using to report quarterly that they still have to use on top of the new one. This is what regional government will bring. More redundancy. More bureaucracy. More nepotism and patronage jobs.

Bryan Meek March 12, 2023 at 12:54 pm

I’d like to see this guy’s resume. Was he part of the $500 million bailout we had to give to Hartford? Or can he explain how a large, well run city can simply implode financially?

“The future is the cities,” Korber said. Perhaps the first step is getting past the reluctance some suburban officials have to work with their core cities.
“Some think they’ll be taking on the city’s problems. Actually, the large cities are well-run,” said Joe DeLong, executive director and CEO of the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities and a strong proponent of regional service sharing.

David Osler March 13, 2023 at 8:04 am

You know you could do more targeted mergers like Wilton and Weston or Weston in Easton and we could reestablish county governments, and this destablish a good chunk of the town governments I’m sure that would be a disaster, but start with Hartford. See how it works to Fairfield County last since we’re the ones writing the checks

Johnny cardamone March 13, 2023 at 11:27 am

There are some smart way smaller towns should work together, such as in Reading and Easton which share, Joe Barlow high school. That’s a political climate today in our country definitely seems to support the opposite trend! Even down in Atlanta, The city is now splintering! People want a voice and how the town is run!

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