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Thursday, August 29, 2013

SWRPA CEOs Urge Danbury-Area Planning Body Merger

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Under the plan, 10 municipalities around Danbury would merge their regional planning authority with the eight southwest members. Contributed graphic

UPDATE Facing a state deadline, chief elected officials of Westport and six of the seven other members of the South Western Regional Planning Agency (SWRPA) today recommended merging with the 10-municipality governing authority to the north around Danbury.

Only Norwalk Mayor Richard Moccia, who was absent, did not vote to approve the action at a meeting of the South Western Region Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) at the Norwalk Transit District office in Norwalk. However after the meeting, Louis Schulman, administrator of the Norwalk Transit District, said Moccia informed him he supported the vote.

“It’s an historic step as the southwest Connecticut communities try to get ahead of the state forcing us into a Council of Government (COG) alliance with a neighboring governing authority,” said Westport First Selectman Gordon Joseloff, who is chairman of the MPO. “This way we get to call the shots.”

The formal vote was to strongly urge the SWRPA governing board—made up of 22 appointed volunteers from the eight SWRPA municipalities—to consider a merger with the 10-member Housatonic Valley Council of Elected Officials (HVCEO).

HVCEO has yet to endorse such a merger. At a meeting today, HVCEO officials formed a subcommittee to explore the possibility of a merger with a neighboring entity, which was not named.

Under state guidelines, it is the SWRPA board, whose members are appointed by the municipal CEOs and Planning and Zoning Commissions, not the CEOs, which has to formally agree to a merger. The SWRPA board will consider the matter at its Sept. 9 meeting.

In addition to Westport, the SWRPA municipalities include Darien, Greenwich, New Canaan, Norwalk, Stamford, Weston, and Wilton. The HVCEO communities are Bethel, Bridgewater, Brookfield, Danbury, New Fairfield, New Milford, Newtown, Redding, Ridgefield, and Sherman.

Today’s meeting of elected leaders of HVCEO in Brookfield was a follow-up to an Aug. 15 HVCEO meeting at which four SWRPA CEOs, including Joseloff, discussed a possible merger of SWRPA and HVCEO. 

Most of the CEOs of the 18 municipalities have made clear their opposition to a state-forced governing body merger, saying the current structure serves them and their constituents well. However, most of the SWRPA CEOs said they resigned themselves to the fact that some type of merger would take place regardless of their sentiments.

Today’s SWRPA MPO action was a response to new state legislation that mandates that all regional planning bodies become a Council of Government of no less than 14 municipalities by Jan. 1. 2015, with financial benefits to those who “express an intent” to merge by Jan. 1. 2014.

Only Westport among the eight SWRPA municipalities has by a vote of the Representative Town Meeting (RTM) approved joining a COG. The vote on March 6, 2012 was 28-1. (See WestportNow March 6, 2012)

Joseloff said he will ask the RTM at its next two meetings to consider modifications of the RTM’s approval to join a COG . One would make it clear that the approval would cover SWRPA or a successor body—possibly including HVCEO.

The other would remove a “sunset clause” that ends such authorization on Nov. 19, 2013.  Joseloff said this would allow more time either to meet the Jan. 1, 2014 state deadline for indicating intent to merge planning bodies or to continue discussions beyond that date.

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Posted 08/29/13 at 02:56 PM  Permalink



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