Beware: County Government In CT?

From the grumbling I’m hearing in Fairfield County, you’d think a proposal to form a regional council of governments was a back-door attempt to re-establish county government in Connecticut.

Ever since the General Assembly abolished county government in 1960, Connecticut has essentially left its 169 municipalities on their own. Of course, towns and cities have to abide by state law and mandates in return for receiving aide from the state, but they are no longer taxed for the privilege of being located in a county. Therefore, Connecticut’s eight counties are nothing more than geographical entities used to denote regions of the state.

If I had been living in Connecticut in 1960 (and were old enough to understand it), I would have applauded the move. I can’t think of any good reason for a state as small as ours to have county government. It’s one more way of extracting money from taxpayers with little added benefit. After all, in a state of only 3.4 million people, why would counties need their own bureaus of weights and measures to keep a watchful eye on gas stations to make sure they aren’t ripping us off?

In a larger state such as New York, you could make a much better case for county government. Indeed the counties are very strong in NYS. Outside the city of New York, where city government supercedes individual counties, most are run by a county executive and county legislature. The counties have their own road systems, boards of health, public works departments, sheriffs and courts. This is simply not necessary in Connecticut, whose geographic size, for example, is about 25% that of San Bernardino County, Calif.

That having been said, the notion that the establishment of a council of governments is the first step toward county government — or that it would on some level usurp municipal authority — is ridiculous. We have a council of governments right here in the Northwest Corner. The Northwest COG, as it’s known, is one of 15 in the state and is comprised of elected officials from member towns. They hold monthly meetings and talk about issues in their towns that deserve attention by state and federal officials. Often, the meetings attract media coverage.

From the NWCCOG’s own literature:

The NWCCOG provides a regional forum for information exchange and cooperation on issues of mutual concern to member communities and delivers technical assistance and information services to the towns.  The assistance and services range from organizing workshops for land use commissioners to researching state legislation to providing an administrative umbrella for a prescription drug program.

Contrary to what many are saying, the COGs do not mandate an additional layer of review for development projects and the expense to taxpayers for these councils is minimal. What the COGs do is get the attention of legislators because, among other things, there is safety and clout in numbers.

No need to worry, folks. If I thought this Fairfield County COG proposal was a back-door effort to re-institute county government, I would be firmly against it. And oh, happy new year!

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  • Ed Leadershipcrisis

    The area we most need a more regional approach such as county boundaries is in the schools system. There ought not be 166 school districts in CT. What a complete waste. The best thing this new Ed Commissioner can do is call to task the cowardly legislature, with self interests at their core, with compelling data that county education is more efficient and effective than the current system that has helped crate the largest achievement gap in the nation.

    • Anonymous

      Ed, thanks for your comment. I essentially agree with you. While there are plenty of regional high- and middle schools in the state, often the K-8 schools in individual towns have their own boards of education and their own administrators. That is certainly the case in Region 1, where I live, and Region 7 in Winsted. This seems ridiculous. I don’t necessarily think we need county school districts, but regionalization in education provides superior economies of scale, while not sacrificing much in the way of the local control we Nutmeggers have historically prized.

  • getabibleandagun

    Does anyone know why CT disbanded county gov’t in 1960? I vaguely remember a teacher telling me in high school (Fairfield) that it was because of corruption. Any info appreciated, thanks.

    • ctdevilsadvocate

      My recollection is there was too much patronage and corruption, combined with a realization that county government simply isn’t needed in very small states. I believe neighboring Rhode Island is the only other state with no county government at all. But even tinier Delaware (population 900,000) has three large county governments. Go figure …

      • getabibleandagun

        Thanks for your help.

      • http://twitter.com/jeff532003 Jeff Platt

        Just FYI Massachusetts has had no county government since 1998. Presently there is active participation on the state level in both New Hampshire and New Jersey to also abolish county government.
        It seems the smaller states are finally seeing the waste in it as they still try and recoup revenue lost in the recession.