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Letter to the Editor: MDC and the Pitfalls of Regionalization

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To the Editor:

At our last West Hartford Town Council meeting, we had a lengthy discussion concerning the MDC’s imposition of a “reserve fund,” an additional tax, on the member towns to protect against the City of Hartford’s potential default on its payment obligations. To West Hartford alone, that tax shift costs an additional $1.77 million – on top of the $10 million the Town already is paying the MDC.

The Council voted in favor of a resolution (6-2) designed to criticize the MDC’s taxing policies and conduct, and further suggest ways to address perceived “structural deficiencies” in the MDC’s Charter. We voted against the resolution because it did not state the MDC lacks the authority to pursue or enforce the reserve fund, and the proposed changes – implementation of a user-fee based system, providing the MDC with borrowing authority to cover in-year payment defaults by member towns, and clarifying and enhancing MDC’s collection powers – are not necessarily prudent nor necessary to address the issue.

For over 90 years, the MDC’s taxation power, scope of services and obligations to its member towns has been governed and limited by its Charter. Nowhere within the Charter is there any language which permits the MDC to pursue a “reserve fund” or otherwise shift a financial burden from one member municipality to another to protect against a potential default. It simply does not exist. The Charter does, however, provide the MDC with a remedy in the event of a member default. Specifically, it empowers the MDC to execute on (lien or take possession of) the property of the defaulting town’s residents. As draconian as this may sound in general, it is equitable in practice.

To provide context, residents pay two MDC bills: their water bill which they pay directly to the MDC and their sewer bill which is paid out of their property tax collected by each town. Therefore, should a town default in its payment to the MDC, it will not be doing so because it does not have the money to pay the MDC but rather because it elected to allocate those monies elsewhere. Moreover, in defaulting, a town subjects its property owners to a double financial burden – their initial property tax paid to cover the MDC bill and a second attachment upon their property. Undoubtedly, such a severe double financial burden would not be tolerated by the public thereby ensuring member towns pay their MDC bill.

It is time to hold the MDC to the confines of its Charter, not to provide it more power. The people of West Hartford – or any member town – should not be forced to bear the costs of another member’s decision to default in its payments to the MDC; even if that member town is Hartford. Instead of forcing the member towns to set aside money in a reserve fund, the MDC should force the City of Hartford to set aside the money to pay its bill. Hartford’s economic woes are real and not likely to go away any time soon. The MDC must take heed that West Hartford will not accept a reserve fund as an annual budgeting mechanism and act accordingly within its legal bounds.

Our region is in the midst of discussing regionalization. Although the concept is worthy of discussion, our experience with the MDC highlights its pitfalls and underscores a very real concern: that regionalism is not a means of sharing services to reduce costs but really a shift of financial burdens – an alarming prospect for many in the already over-taxed Hartford region.

Chris Williams and Chris Barnes
Members, West Hartford Town Council

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