By Rachel Rusnak
In a blow to the residents of Stratford for the second time in 15 years, we have the unfortunate distinction of landing on the State of Connecticut’s Distressed Municipalities list. A dis-honor I’m sure most of us would have rather avoid; we find ourselves among the top 25 impoverished communities out of 169, and one of only two in Fairfield County. Each year the State, per statute, calculates community fiscal capacity and identifies distressed municipalities as those with “high unemployment and poverty, aging housing stock and low or declining rates of growth in job creation, population, and per capita income.”
Thanks to our distressed status Stratford is on track to receive an additional $4,719,720 from the Distressed Municipalities pot, which is funded via state bonds, and in this fiscal year through the Cares Act. (The Mayor’s Proposed 2022 Operating Budget misidentifies this revenue as “State Covid Funding”, however, the Governor’s budget is very clear that this funding is a result of Stratford being identified as a “Distressed Municipality”.)
Stratford last appeared on the list in 2012, under the guidance of former Mayor Harkins. Since then, in 2018 the Yankee Institutes’ “Assessing Municipal Fiscal Health in Connecticut” identified Stratford as the third worst-off municipality in the state, based on general fund balances, long-term obligations, pension contributions, and changes in unemployment rates and property values. Who knew?
Heading into the campaign season, what say the candidates running for mayor? How can we get Stratford booted off this dreadful list, draw high-quality employment, thoughtful development, boost our local economy, and improve the fiscal health of Stratford? These are the questions that I and likely many of my townspeople would like answered – we cannot afford to wait.