Darien became the sixth member town of the South Western Regional Planning Agency to join the newly formed Western Connecticut Council of Governments following approval Monday by the Representative Town Meeting.
The vote was 71-6.
In 2010, Speaker of the House Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, created the Municipal Opportunities Regional Efficiencies commission and invited legislators, town officials, advocates and citizens to uncover ways for municipalities to be more financially efficient.
Following legislation adopted June 19, all regional planning agencies and councils of elected officials had to become a council of governments with a minimum of 14 municipalities.
The SWRPA has agreed to join with the Housatonic Valley Council of Elected Officials. The SWRPA also is composed of Greenwich, New Canaan, Norwalk, Stamford, Weston, Westport and Wilton. The HVCEO is comprised of Bethel, Bridgewater, Brookfield, Danbury, New Fairfield, New Milford, Newtown, Redding, Ridgefield and Sherman. The merger of the two regional planning agencies will create the Western Connecticut Council of Governments, the second-largest Council of Government in Connecticut. The largest region is the Capital Region Council of Government in the Hartford area that has 30 towns.
The SWRPA was comprised of a 22-member volunteer board. The number of volunteers each town sent was based on the town or city's population. Darien had two volunteers, while a city like Stamford had four.
Under the new COG structure, each town will have equal representation and the board will consist of the regional town leaders.
"I think the single greatest benefit will be one town, one vote," First Selectman Jayme Stevenson said. "The small towns will have equal voting power."
Towns have the opportunity to not join the WCCOG, but by doing so they relinquish any say in regional projects and planning.
"I feel uncomfortable with it because I've seen what county governments can do," RTM member Seth Morton, of District III, said. "But we're far better off at the table. I'd rather be at the table and make the arguments than be on the sideline and watch other people make the decisions. The state didn't really give us a choice if we want to have a say."
Under the current structure, COGs do not have the authority to tax, said state Rep. Chris Davis, R-Ellington, who is the ranking member of the MORE commission, at a forum June 3. COGs do, however, have the authority to determine projects based on money that is given by state and federal governments.
Davis told the audience at the forum that it is not the intention of the COG to transfer money from wealthy areas to poorer areas.
Eleven of the 18 towns in the two regions need to approve the new ordinance in order for the WCCOG to take effect, according to Stevenson.
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