CCM announces support for limited highway tolls PAUL HUGHES HARTFORD – The Connecticut Conference of Municipalities is open to limited highway tolls as a means of supporting transportation spending. The statement from the statewide association of cities and towns comes as House and Senate Democratic majority leaders are trying to negotiate a final agreement on truck-only bridge tolls. CCM is recommending state legislators adopt a bipartisan transportation financing plan as part of its legislative agenda for the 2020 General Assembly session that opens on Feb. 5. “This plan must identify and allocate appropriate resources which may include the establishment of limited tolling and will enable the state to leverage all available federal funding resources,” the CCM document said. Gov. Ned Lamont and legislative Democratic leaders have proposed to establish truck-only tolls on 12 bridges across Connecticut. House and Senate Democrats are trying to settle the differences between the two caucuses over details. The Republican minority remains opposed to highway tolls of any kind, so a bipartisan solution that CCM advocates appears unlikely. The tolling plan under consideration targets heavy commercial trucks only. Passenger vehicles and lighter trucks are to be excluded. One of the challenges for the governor’s office and the Democratic leadership is finding ways to assure uneasy Democratic legislators that tolls will be limited to heavy trucks. Republicans and toll opponents argue truck-only tolls would be only be the start of tolling. Another outstanding issue concerns how toll rates will be set. Two possibilities under discussion are having the legislature determine the charges, or delegating that authority to an independent, appointed state board. Lamont and the Democratic leadership are proposing to use toll revenues to secure $1.5 billion in low-interest federal loans to finance the 12 bridge improvement projects. The list of projects includes the Mixmaster interchange of Interstate 84 and Route 8 in Waterbury, four bridges on Route 8 south of the I-84 interchange in Waterbury, and the Rochambeau Bridge on I-84 in Southbury and Newtown. Lamont and Democratic leaders have set a goal of adopting a transportation funding plan with truck-only tolls in a special legislative session before the start of the regular 2020 session. Democratic leaders said earlier this week that they expect the transportation financing legislation to be finished and made public Tuesday. In addition to transportation infrastructure, the legislative priorities of CCM also include property tax relief, changes to binding arbitration, labor laws, and municipal pensions, and a program to attack the opioid crisis. Cities and towns are again requesting to be allowed to charge tax-exempt organizations and institutions user fees for public services. At this time, municipalities primarily rely on local property taxes to finance local government. CCM formed a Commission on Property Tax Reform in November to develop a comprehensive initiative for property tax relief. Its recommendations will be issued after the legislative session, but the release will be timed to coincide with this year’s legislative elections. Local leaders are requesting the creation of a new plan in the state-administered Municipal Employees Retirement System. It would exclude overtime from pension calculations, increase the retirement age to 62, put a 4% ceiling on cost of living adjustments, and allow municipalities to negotiate employee contributions. Another proposal would rewrite binding arbitration and collective bargaining laws to enable the sharing of more public services between municipalities. CCM also proposes a one-year time limit for concluding arbitration proceedings. Local governments are proposing the creation of a state ombudsman to coordinate funding to support substance abuse prevention and education. CCM believes this would enhance efforts to combat the state’s opioid problem.
STAMFORD — Stamford officials have repeatedly said the city could become the first place in the nation to employ a public-private partnership model for the construction and maintenance of five new district schools by 2024.
But a county in Maryland has already begun to pioneer the idea, and even more, public-private partnerships are used for infrastructure projects across the country and world, with varying degrees of success and failure.
According to reporting from The Washington Post, Prince George’s County is set to become the first jurisdiction in the country to use a public-private partnership for school construction and maintenance, a plan county leaders say is a cost-effective and efficient way to address the schools $8.5 billion building and maintenance backlog and rebuild several schools.
“The commitment of the money and the awarding of the Request for Proposals is intended to happen this calendar year,” Maryland State Sen. James Rosapepe, who pushed for the use of public-private partnerships in the state’s public schools and represents Prince George’s County, told the Advocate.
“It was a lot of very public discussion over a period of years,” said Rosapepe.
Public-private partnerships, including the kind Stamford is exploring for its schools, often combine the various elements needed for a project, such as architectural, design and construction services, into one procurement, which is then awarded to an individual private partner to take over the project.
“The theory behind a P3, at base, is it creates and starts a process focused on efficiency and really helping to streamline and focus everyone on the public sector objectives and what is trying to be solved and built,” said Jason Washington, executive director of the National Council for Public Private Partnerships.
These supposed benefits of P3s drew him to the idea, said Rosapepe.
“With public-private partnerships, it’s all integrated, so you get a significant cost-savings and can fix and maintain schools better and faster,” said Rosapepe.
The need for a financially manageable and quick way to rebuild a chunk of its schools is also driving Stamford’s probe into public-private partnerships.
The seed for such an idea was planted a year ago after the scope of a ferocious mold crisis in Stamford schools, and the cost of repairs, became apparent. Since August 2018, mold has been found in at least half of the district’s 21 public school buildings, posing a significant financial challenge for the school district.
Handler’s timeline for the project is significantly more expedited than that of Prince George’s County. The idea was first introduced by Handler and Lucero at public presentations in the fall, and according to Handler’s timeline, a private partner will be chosen by April or May.
Handler has already released a Request for Qualification to see which firms are capable of completing the desired work, but other elected officials in the city have asked to put the pause button on the speedy move toward implementation of a P3.
On Monday, the Board of Representatives voted 25-3-6 to hold on the decision of whether to appropriate $250,000 for professional services to support drafting, evaluating and managing RFQs and RFPs for private partners to design, construct and manage the school facilities.
Many representatives said they need more options against which to compare against the P3 plan and better information about the financial models underlying the proposed plan.
In his presentation, Handler claimed the traditional model for school construction and operations is 70 percent more expensive than the “public-private partnership” plan and that the annual cost of the traditional model will be about $19 million compared to an estimated $11 million annual cost for the sale-leaseback plan.
While relatively untested in U.S. schools, public-private partnerships have been widely used for construction and maintenance of transportation infrastructure, such as toll roads and highways, but has only recently moved into the market for social infrastructure, including courthouses, airports, and now — in Prince George’s County and Stamford — with schools, said Washington.
Despite the large role of the private sector in these arrangements, Washington said they still require public support.
“The appropriate approach is a lot of public engagement and to make clear what the objectives are and what you’re trying to accomplish. What makes P3s successful is clear public buy-in and understanding of what’s going to happen,” said Washington.
For the many proponents of public-private partnerships, there are also critics.
Jeremy Mohler, communications director of In the Public Interest, a national think tank that studies public goods and services, told the Advocate that according to his group’s research, P3s are often more expensive than the traditional model for construction andmaintenance of public infrastructure.
In a Washington Post op-ed, Mohler cited the example of Nova Scotia, which signed a public-private partnership to construct over two dozen schools in 1999, but then a decade later discovered the public could have saved $52 million if it had gone the traditional route, according to a report by the province’ auditor.
Proponents of P3s often think the model is cheaper based on ideological beliefs in the efficiency and speed of the private sector, but the traditional route may often be the better route to go, said Mohler.
“I would say the biggest issue after the numbers is the issue of public control,” said Mohler. “With this contract, residents may be giving away decision-making power of their schools.”At least for now, the ball’s in Stamford’s court to decide which way to proceed for the future of the schools infrastructure.
$3.7 Billion Removed from the General Fund to Balance the STF Since 2003
(HARTFORD, CT) – The Connecticut Office of Policy and Management today released an analysis showing that nearly every state budget since 2003 has diverted money away from the General Fund that should have been used to fund various items such as municipal aid, education, and nonprofits, and was redirected to balance the state’s Special Transportation Fund (STF), which finances the state’s entire transportation system and is projected to become insolvent in the coming years.
The analysis shows that since 2003, a total of $3.7 billion has been redirected from the General Fund to the STF. In stark contrast, during this same time-period a total of $152 million has been transferred from the STF to the General Fund – the last time of which occurred during the 2014 fiscal year and the only time it has happened during the last 10 years.
Max Reiss, Director of Communications for Governor Ned Lamont, said that the analysis refutes a myth perpetuated by opponents of implementing a responsible transportation policy that will fix the ongoing solvency problems with the STF and modernize the state’s roads, bridges, transit, airports, and ports.
“The facts are clear and they continue to be muddied by those with political motives,” Reiss said. “The Special Transportation Fund has been supported by revenues that have been, and will continue to be, insufficient over the past decade and beyond. If we don’t take action, this is a trend we know will continue in the future. To that end, previous Connecticut governors – two Republicans and one Democrat – used the General Fund and revenues meant to support municipal aid, education, and nonprofits that were used instead to pay for transportation infrastructure. This practice robbed social service providers of needed funds and short-changed our communities.
“Connecticut residents should have faith in our government and they must have faith in the information coming from elected officials and those involved in the political process. These numbers and this data show what the truth is, and that truth is the reality that Connecticut has neglected its transportation infrastructure for decades, which led funding intended for other services to bail out the transportation fund for nearly two decades. Opponents to responsible transportation investment must face the facts, and not parse numbers to fuel a misinformation campaign.”
TORRINGTON – The fresh layer of snow did not stop members of the Conservation Commission Sunday from hiking through the property where four age-restricted senior apartment buildings are proposed in the Greenbriar housing development off Route 202. TDF Enterprises LLC, the owner of a 39-acre parcel of vacant land in the Greenbriar development, is proposing to build a 120-unit apartment complex for individuals 55 years old and older.The apartments would feature mostly one- and two-bedroom units in four buildings on two different parts of the property – two buildings accessed from the end of Wimbledon Gate North and two from Notting Hill Gate. The commission tracked through thorny bushes and wooded areas and even hopped over a stream for more than an hour to view the property, looking at potential building sites, open space and what types of vegetation, including native and non-native invasive species, are present. Torrington Zoning & Wetlands Enforcement Officer Jeremy Leifert said the Conservation Commission members had to contend with the snow because they are meeting Tuesday to review their report and letter comments on overall conservation-related topics in regards to the topic. “We have to deal with the conditions we have,” Leifert said. The Planning and Zoning Commission will hold a hearing on the project at 7 p.m. Wednesday and the Conservation Commission needs to compete its report before Wednesday. The Conservation Commission is an advisory board and it doesn’t vote to approve or not approve projects; it only offers comments to the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission.
Despite the snow, multiflora rose and thorny Japanese barberry plants were still visible in part of the property. Leifert said the Conservation Commission hopes most of those non-native invasive plants would be cleared from the property by the construction area.
“It seemed like when we got out of the developed areas, it was just forest or at least mostly native plants,” Leifert said. Attorney Peter Olson, who is representing abutter Catherine Mollica and the Association at Greenbriar Inc., said the walk-through should have been canceled due to the fresh fallen snow, and he plans to ask that Wednesday’s hearing on the projected be postponed. Olson said there are a number of concerns about the environmental sensitivity of the property. “The Gulf Stream is a very important natural resource that needs to be protected and we don’t think the applicant has done any analysis of the impacts this project will have on that,” Olson said.