With the mounting uncertainty about the state budget, many town officials are growing increasingly worried about legislators taking dollars away from municipalities. Any cut to state funding to towns would have a massive effect on cities such as New London and Norwich, and even more rural communities like Montville, Ledyard and East Lyme.
But not Waterford. The town gets less state funding per capita than almost any other town in the state, and even a complete loss of state funds would be a manageable loss to taxpayers.
“What for us would be a ripple is a tidal wave to other towns,” Board of Finance member J.W. “Bill” Sheehan said.
The largest single state fund to towns is the Education Cost Sharing Grant, which goes to school districts. In 2009-10, with some help from stimulus funds, New London received $22.94 million, Norwich $32.2 million, East Lyme $7.1 million, Montville $12.55 million and Salem, a town with a population of just over 4,000, $3.1 million.
Waterford, with its population of more than 19,000, received $1.3 million, comparable to Bozrah’s $1.23 million. Bozrah has a population under 3,000.
“The lion's share of our money here is town funds,” Assistant Superintendent Craig Powers said. “So we are certainly not as dependent on the state as other towns.”
The state also reimburses towns at different rates for school construction, an important issue for Waterford, which is in the process of rebuilding or renovation five schools at a cost of over $200 million. In 2009, Waterford agreed to be reimbursed 33.57 percent by the state for the high school renovation.
That percentage is up from 2004, when Clark Lane Middle School was renovated at a reimbursement rate of approximately 25 percent.
Meanwhile Groton, which is looking to build new schools, is reimbursed at 66 percent, New London at over 70 percent and Salem at 50 percent.
Overall, Waterford received $3.5 million in state funding for operational expenses in fiscal year 2009-10. Without that funding, the tax rate would increase just under 1 mill.
“That’s because we have the cash cow,” Sheehan said.
The state’s ECS grant is based on a variety of factors, including the grand list.
Because Waterford has one taxpayer, Dominion, providing 30 percent of the grand list, the number is low, Sheehan said.
The town would welcome more money from the state, but it is all coming from taxpayers anyway, First Selectman Dan Steward said. It is good that the town “has less volatility” when state and federal funds drop, he said.
“Fairness is a judgment issue and more would always be nice, but those monies will be taxed somewhere else,” Steward said, when asked if it was fair that Waterford receives less than other towns. “Our community is fortunate for what we receive and for our large taxpayer that contributes 30 percent of our revenue.”
“More would always be nice, of course,” he said. “But it is all comes from the taxpayer one way or another.”