In the town council meeting Dec. 3, elected officials wrestled with questions not normally discussed during town council meetings, questions like: how can Berlin keep its status in the state? And what is the best way to keep federal funding flowing to various projects in the town?
The questions arose out of one simple question: should the town join the larger, Hartford area council of governments, or should it join with the smaller COG that served municipalities around Waterbury?
In the end, the Town Council voted to support Town Manager Denise McNair’s recommendation that the town join the Capitol Region Council of Governments in a 5-2 decision, with council members Dave Evans and Charles Paonessa opposing the decision.
Berlin’s decision has implications for many services in town because these regional associations of governments help the towns with such services as elderly busing programs, emergency services, regional projects, providing federal funding -- even something as minor as providing road salt during winter storms.
Berlin needed to join a council of governments because the state is dissolving the regional organization to which Berlin currently belongs, the Central Connecticut Regional Planning Agency.
To understand the situation, rewind to October 1960 when Connecticut’s legislature voted to abolish its county form of government. The counties were replaced with regional planning organizations and councils of governments.
They are the mechanism with which the federal government doles out money to individual towns. They also create regional development plans, generally assisting, supporting and coordinating towns.
In October, the Connecticut Office of Policy and Management released a report proposing a consolidation of the various COGs and RPOs. In the report, the state lumped CCRPA with the Capitol Region Council of Governments (CRCOG).
However, the Central Connecticut Regional Planning Organization, a collection of seven towns, voted to associate as a group to the council of governments in the southwest, the Council of Governments of Central Naugatuck Valley (COGCNV).
According to the town manager, Hartford’s COG does not want to accept all seven towns in CCRPA but will consider the application of each town individually. Already, Plainville and Southington decided to join the Hartford COG.
During the meeting, Berlin resident Dennis Kern addressed the town council, asking it to align with the Naugatuck Valley COG, or at the very least, table the motion to see where New Britain would go.
Kern, who was appointed by the town to serve on CCRPA’s board and now serves as its chairman, said he had “no vested interest” in the CCRPA but spoke as a concerned citizen.
He argued the town would be better served by going to the Naugatuck Valley COG because it served 20 towns, instead of the Hartford COG’s 30.
“Who is going to give the town of Berlin better service?” he said.
While the regional planning organization has “really been ideal” with only seven towns in the organization, Kern worried Berlin’s role would be diminished and it would be harder to obtain funds if it moved to the larger COG.
This would be funding for certain projects in the town, such as the Farmington Avenue Bridge, or the new police station.
Town Manager Denise McNair said the regional planning organizations “are going away” and Berlin couldn’t stay in the CCRPA “even if we wanted to.”
With Plainville and Southington both voting to go with the Hartford COG, Berlin would be an island if it went with the Waterbury COG.
McNair said Berlin has better relationships with towns already in the Hartford COG. It is a part of the MidState Collaborative between Berlin, Rocky Hill, Newington, Wethersfield and Cromwell. The police departments of those towns aid in accident reconstruction, DUI checkpoints and emergency management services.
McNair is unfamiliar with the Naugatuck Valley COG.
“I’ve had no experience with them and I don’t think any of my departments have had any experience with them,” she said.
Berlin is a part of the Central Connecticut Health District, which include the same four towns.
Mayor Rachel Rochette said because Berlin developed relationships with towns already in the Hartford COG, it may have more political clout in the larger COG than in the Naugatuck Valley COG.
Evans asked about the financial impact. He suggested moving the discussion to the council’s Dec. 17 meeting so the town could find the projected value from each organization.
He said he did not have sufficient information to make a decision.
“Is there a cost value one way or the other?” he said during the meeting.
McNair said she would not have the information he asked for by the next meeting and some of the information may not exist.
After the meeting, McNair said the town could have waited to see what New Britain did, or it could have waited until it was assigned by the state into a COG.
But she wanted to take the initiative.
“Lets do what we feel is good for us,” she said.