Legislators face tough choices

Friday, January 23, 2009 6:17 AM EST
By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff

NORTH BRANFORD — State and local officials painted a grim picture of the town’s economic outlook at the Chamber of Commerce’s annual legislative breakfast Thursday.

Town Manager Richard Branigan jokingly thanked the speakers preceding him — state Sen. Edward Meyer, D-Guilford, state Rep. Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford and Mayor Michael Doody — for making his presentation sound more positive.

“Thank you for depressing the audience thoroughly, so anything I say is bound to be an improvement,” Branigan said to laughter from two dozen business leaders gathered at Doody’s Totoket Inn on Foxon Road.

Meyer and Candelora both said state legislators will have to make difficult decisions about funding and tax increases as the state is faced with a projected tax deficit of more than $900 million for this fiscal year and about $8 billion for the next two-year budget.

The General Assembly must pass a budget for fiscal 2009-10 and 2010-11 in the coming months.

Meyer said he would not favor cutting spending across the board, but said the state should cut costs in certain areas. Specifically, he said he believes the Riverview mental health hospital for children should be closed and the number of boys at the Connecticut Juvenile Training School should be reduced.

“I think we’re elected and we’re paid to be creative and look for where we can cut instead of cutting across the board,” he said, adding that if the state cuts funding “all we’ve done is pass on a new tax burden to North Branford.”

Meyer and Candelora also said that certain taxes might have to increase to deal with the shortfall.

“The budget deficit is so humongous that we are also going to have to deal with the other side of the checkbook, and that is raising new revenues,” Meyer said, mentioning eliminating the tax exemption for clothing as one possible source of income.

But Candelora said he does not think the state can “tax and spend” its way out of the crisis.

“I don’t think any of us can afford a tax increase right now,” he said. “(But) I don’t know if we’ll get out of this without a tax increase.”

Branigan said he thinks that North Branford’s “hard-working, caring” character will help it weather the difficult economic times.

The town Economic Development Commission is working to reach out to businesses to help them stay in town, and the Town Council is working with the Regional Water Authority — which controls about a third of town land — to reappraise the authority’s property with the hope of collecting more in taxes.

He added that the town is working on budget proposals that will not include large increases while maintaining services. Superintendent of Schools Scott Schoonmaker also spoke about the school district’s budget process.

“The superintendent and myself will be looking to present budgets that are fair, that reflect the priorities of the community and that reflect an obligation to the taxpayers of this town,” Branigan said. “Government should be run more like business, and I’ll tell you that in North Branford, government should be run more like North Branford business and we’ll all get through this together.”

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