- Front Porch
Officials in Meriden and Southington are taking exception to the low ranking of their towns in the latest edition of Connecticut Magazine.
Every other year, staff members of Connecticut Magazine rate each municipality on factors such as economy, schools and crime. Cities and towns are typically divided into categories by population to compare and rank similar municipalities, but this year the breakdown was changed. Because upper-income towns typically dominated the ratings, the magazine opted to categorize municipalities by median home sales price.
Previous rankings by population “seemed like a weird, unnatural way to group things,” said Ben Doody, editor of Connecticut Magazine and its sister publications. “If you want to move to a town in Connecticut, you don’t say ‘I really want to live in a place with a population of 25,000-50,000.’ You say ‘this is the budget I have and this is how much I can afford.’”
Meriden was ranked last out of 39 communities in the lowest median home sale price category of $175,000 and under, while Southington ranked 40th out of 41 in the $225,000 to $299,999 category. The eight highest population cities were given their own separate category.
“I don’t understand how Connecticut Magazine thinks that grouping municipalities by home median sales price is comparing apples to apples,” said Meriden City Council Majority Leader Brian Daniels. “You can’t compare a city of 62,000 to a rural town with a population of 1,500 who may not even have its own police department or fire department.”
Among the highest ranking towns that fit into the same category as Meriden were Colebrook, Cornwall and Westbrook. Colebrook and Cornwall have populations under 1,500, according to Connecticut Magazine’s research, and Westbrook is just under 7,000.
Doody admitted that there is some “gray area” and the ratings system is not perfect, but editors agreed it was the “most fair way of doing it.” He added that Meriden is in a complicated situation because it has a high population compared with most other municipalities, but it was not high enough to be grouped with the eight largest cities.
“It had to be cut off somewhere,” Doody said, noting that Meriden ranked higher than New Haven, Waterbury, Hartford, and Bridgeport in some categories.
Among the factors rated was education, which was calculated based on standardized testing results. The economy factor was ranked by a score compiled by the state Office of Policy and Management that takes into account per capita income, the unemployment rate, the mill rate and other data. Crime was judged based on the amount of major crimes committed in 2012 per 1,000 people. The category of civic engagement included 2012 voter turnout and the amount of local news coverage available. Leisure and culture was based on several factors including the proximity to state parks, number of colleges and universities, restaurants listed in the magazine’s Best Restaurants issue, among others.
Mayor Michael S. Rohde called the ranking “unfair” to Meriden, noting that, among other items, the rating system does not take into account the municipal park system. Meriden has the most municipal park space in New England, Rohde said.
“That counts for nothing,” he said “They totally missed the boat.”
Rohde’s Republican challenger in the upcoming election, Manny Santos, said he was concerned by the low ranking.
“High taxes and low services and poor conditions in Meriden are a problem and hopefully a new administration will be able to turn it around,” he said. “Something like this may impact future (home) sales or folks who might want to sell may end up losing money if they do so.”
Unlike in previous years, Doody said the magazine included stories about some up-and-coming towns this year, including Storrs, which is undergoing a massive economic development and school expansion. Though the project did not help Storrs’ rating, it could improve in the rankings in future years. Comparatively, Meriden’s two public high schools are undergoing $220 million in renovations, while a $13 million redevelopment of the vacant former Meriden Hub site and a new train station are planned. Though they could not be factored into the ratings, Meriden’s ranking could be impacted in the future.
Southington’s ranking also drew frustration from the town’s promoters.
“Maybe they went to Stonington instead of Southington,” said Chamber of Commerce President Art Secondo. “The tax rate is very, very good here. We have beautiful parks, a drive-in theater, softball fields and (artificial turf) on our football fields. Our crime is low. We have the Apple Harvest Festival and the Italian Festival. The fact that it’s not even in the top 10, I don’t even understand.”
Similarly, Southington was up against municipalities with much lower populations. The top finishers in its median home sale price range were Simsbury, Glastonbury and Granby. Only North Branford finished behind Southington.
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