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October 28, 2013 Editorial

Municipal elections matter

Business owners and executives may not know it, but an election is coming up Nov. 5.

It's one of those off-year elections without major statewide and national races. Instead voters' ballots will be filled with candidates vying for mayoral positions or seats on a town council.

Municipal elections aren't often sexy or attention grabbing, but they do matter.

Cities and towns control a major cost driver for Connecticut businesses: property taxes.

If business owners, which tend to be the largest taxpayers within their communities, want a say over how their hard earned dollars are spent, they need to show up at the voting booth next Tuesday.

Problem is, there is tremendous voter apathy toward local elections. In the last off-year election in 2011, for example, only about 30 percent of the 1.9 million eligible voters in this state cast a ballot.

During last year's presidential election, voter turnout skyrocketed to nearly 74 percent.

Decisions made on the local level have a major impact on business decisions. Just look at the city of Hartford. The city's excessively high commercial mill rate (it's more than 70) has made it difficult to attract new businesses to the Capital City. As a result, Hartford has experienced economic doldrums for years, although the dial is starting to move in the right direction.

Meanwhile, the Windsor town council is exerting tremendous power and influence over Amazon's decision to build a $50 million, 1.5 million-square-foot distribution facility on Day Hill Road.

The Windsor town council voted last week to provide Amazon with a 60 percent tax abatement over five years, and a 50 percent reduction in building permit fees.

Without the tax incentives, Amazon would likely consider another location for the 380 jobs it plans to add with the new warehouse.

Business owners are quick to complain about the state's high taxes. Local elections offer an opportunity to do something about it.

Let's hope the business community finds the time and interest to make their collective voices heard.

Health Center spending a concern

A recent state audit report detailing several excessive spending practices and other fiscal inattentiveness at the UConn Health Center should be cause for concern to taxpayers.

On several occasions in recent years, the state has provided the Farmington medical center with millions of dollars in emergency funds to help it close budget shortfalls. Yet, the Health Center has had enough money to pay patent lawyers as much as $820 per hour for legal services, according to the state audit, which also said UConn purchased equipment totaling nearly $2 million with no evidence that competitive prices were sought.

At a time when the state is investing close to a billion dollars in the Health Center as part of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's Bioscience Connecticut initiative, state lawmakers would be wise to take a closer look at how efficiently the institution is being run.

State resources are too limited to squander taxpayer money.

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