Sen. Kissel: State to Restore $$$ for Windsor Locks, Suffield, Windsor, and East Granby [Journal Inquirer]

June 6, 2013

Article as it appeared in the Journal Inquirer
Journal Inquirer
June 5, 2013

Windsor Locks, Suffield, Windsor, and East Granby would be spared cuts in the state money they collect for hosting Bradley International Airport under a bill before lawmakers.

Some of that money was threatened as ownership of the airport is switched from the Department of Transportation to the new quasi-public Connecticut Airport Authority.

The state funding makes up for property taxes the towns can’t collect on the state-owned land. It comes from the property in lieu of taxes, or PILOT, fund.

And it isn’t pocket change: Windsor Locks would have lost more than $600,000, Sen. John A. Kissel of Enfield said. That town collects the most of the four because the majority of the airport is located within its limits.

Under the legislation, the money the towns now get through PILOT would be moved to another fund under the Connecticut Airport Authority. The bill specifies the grants can’t be less in the next budget than they were this year.

Kissel pushed to restore the funding by including it in a larger bill that involves transportation laws. Among other things, that bill would clarify that it’s illegal for a driver to use a hand-held cellphone even while stopped at a light or stuck in traffic or construction.

Windsor Locks officials contacted Kissel when they realized they would lose the money under the state budget, he said. Kissel said he spoke with majority legislative Democrats and officials in Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s administration, who agreed to restore the money.

“That doesn’t happen every day,” Kissel, a member of the minority Republican Party, said. “I felt pretty good about getting that in.”

Transportation Department Commissioner James Redeker said the money was lost in a glitch as officials transitioned Bradley and other airports from his department to the new authority, which was created two years ago.

“All it does is clarify that this is an existing practice,” he said. “It was left out in the original legislation.”

Before Kissel’s amendment to restore the money, the bill called for Windsor Locks to get $3.3 million a year; Suffield, $694,000; Windsor, $7,000; and East Granby, $658,000. All of those amounts are less than what the towns now collect.

The change Kissel pushed for says the state must make up the difference to keep those towns level-funded. That’s worth about $600,000 for Windsor Locks and proportionately less for the other towns.

Windsor Locks First Selectman Steven N. Wawruck Jr. said the change makes a big difference for his town, but added that the town still isn’t getting as much as it should.

“Our town is 9 square miles, and a third of it is taken up by the airport,” he said.

The $4 million the town gets this year is about 23 percent of what it should get under the rules established when the state created the PILOT program, Wawruck said.

He has seen the town bring in as much as 40 percent in past years.

“We’re happy to get the $4 million,” Wawruck said. “It’s a starting point.”