Every year the State of Connecticut distributes millions to municipalities and special districts as a grant for maintaining roads and transportation infrastructure, but from 2018 to 2021 some municipalities and special districts have used $7.6 million for other purposes under a waiver provided by the state.
A number of requests came from special fire districts, which generally receive small grants ranging in the tens of thousands of dollars – hardly enough to repair or maintain a road – and have been used instead for the purchase of firefighting equipment or firehouse improvements.
But some municipalities have repeatedly returned to the well of transportation infrastructure grants to fund police and fire vehicles, municipal and education building repairs and, in some cases, maintaining municipal golf courses, according to documents received through a Freedom of Information request.
The Town of North Branford, for instance, received a waiver in 2020 of $300,000 to purchase a police vehicle and a Hurst Tool, as well as paying for a roof replacement at the Department of Public Works, a roof over some dumpsters and replacement of an elevator at the high school.
Waterbury in 2018 received a waiver of nearly $1 million for a number of purchases, including police vehicles, athletic field groomers, golf course lawn mowers and a floor washing machine.
Milford also requested a waiver to help pay for enhancing and improving North Street park properties, including “recreational expansion of Eisenhower Park,” renovating Platt Orchard and it’s event hall and “augment the adjacent 9-hole golf course,” according to documents.
The waiver also functioned as an emergency provision in 2018 when the Town of Sprague found itself in fiscal distress due to a Board of Education “budget overage in excess of $835,000,” according to the waiver request sent from then First Selectman and State Senator Cathy Osten, D-Sprague.
Osten requested $386,528 of Sprague’s town aid grant to be released early just to cover on-going operations.
“These funds are necessary in order for the Town to continue its day-to-day business and fund payroll and accounts payable expenses for the next two months,” Osten wrote, also notifying former Office of Policy and Management Secretary Benjamin Barnes of the town’s intent to apply for Tier II status under the Municipal Accountability Review Board.
The waiver was added in 2013 as a means for municipalities to use the funds for other purposes with approval by the Office of Policy and Management, but while the provision has been in place for 9 years very few municipalities used it between 2018 and 2021.
North Haven, Groton, North Branford and East Granby repeatedly requested waivers during that time, totaling $3.7 million during that time or 42 percent of their total combined grants. In some cases, such as the City of Groton, the full grant amount of $164,635 was waived entirely for three years to be used for, among other things, roof replacements, a press box at Washington Park and fencing around the police impound lot in 2021.
Municipal town aid is funded through state bonds. This past year the legislature authorized the State Bond Commission to borrow $182 million to distribute to municipalities in 2022 and 2023 in $91 million increments.