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Crossing the line

According to the conventional wisdom, the name “Connecticut” means something like “place beside the long river.”

But what if the historians got it all wrong? What if the Algonquian word “Quinnehtukqut” actually means “place beside the long river where 169 towns and cities think they’re all sovereign little kingdoms, so they all maintain their own separate governments and public services, including school systems and police departments and fire departments and every other thing you can think of, because none of them wants to have anything to do with the next town over, unless absolutely necessary”?

If true, that would explain a lot. This is the Land of Steady Habits, after all, where once upon a time people minded their own business and tilled their own fields and good fences made good neighbors and everything came out in the wash at the annual town meeting.

But that approach, which may have been perfectly appropriate in 1714, or even 1914, doesn’t seem to be working quite as well at the start of 2014 — not only because government at all levels has gotten so expensive, but also because our municipalities are no longer tiny farming villages separated from each other by vast expanses of farmland and wilderness; these days, one town runs right into the next — and so does the need for services.

Little by little, we’ve seen evidence that adjoining towns are learning that they can save some money by sharing some services across formerly sacrosanct borders.

There are a few towns that have long cooperated in regional school systems, for example, and there’s a state library system that allows card-holders to cross town lines. Neighboring towns can also call on mutual aid when major fires hit, and in recent years magnet schools have also encouraged cross-border school attendance. There’s even a service center for veterans that for years has been run jointly by Meriden and Wallingford, and recent years have seen cooperation in the management of the health departments in Meriden and Southington.

But perhaps the biggest venture in multitown management has been the running of the Wallingford Housing Authority by staff from New Haven — an arrangement that recently was renewed, on a unanimous vote, for another year.

Coming off a period of political storm and fiscal stress — first under management by its own staff and then by DeMarco Management Corp. — the WHA was not the “piece of cake” that manager Renee Dobos had expected; even with fewer than 320 housing units, it was a challenge, she said. But now she believes it has “turned a corner.”

If this is an example of successful intermunicipal management — and that’s how it looks right now — then perhaps we can expect to see more of the same, both here and around the state. This seems to be an approach worth trying. If it fails, then nothing ventured, nothing gained.

But if it succeeds — that is, if it turns out to save the taxpayers some money — what’s wrong with that?



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