Recently, I received this query from a resident:
I was wondering whatever happened to Scotland not being its own town? Whatever happened to joining another town? Wouldn’t this help us as tax payers? Wouldn’t it make our mill rate etc lower?
Unfortunately it’s uncertain how much more we can take in paying such high taxes.
I thought my response might be helpful to others. So I am posting it here. I have made some changes for clarity.
I don't know very much about the process of merging with another town. I doubt that anyone does, since to my knowledge it hasn't been done in Connecticut in the last 150 years, or maybe ever. I would expect it to be a long, complicated process, and before anything else, it would require an analysis that showed it would solve more problems than it created. We would have to figure out how to deal with our debt, our capital assets (buildings, vehicles, land, equipment, etc.), and our capital funds. We’d have to convince the state legislature to grant unincorporation. And probably a lot of stuff I haven’t thought of.
This move would also be politically complicated at the local level. Do people in Scotland want to give up their fire department and local ambulance, their school, their library, and their town clerk office? Any town that merged with us would very likely want that, as the whole point is to save money. And then there are the non-money related issues. Do people want to give up the advantages of being so small—the easy access to public servants, the ability to make some things happen quickly? I don't know the answers, of course, but I am sure the questions would arise and that it would take a while to reach any kind of consensus.
So I think this alternative is a possibility, but only as a last resort. I can think of many things we could do short of unincorporation that would save significant taxpayer money. We've already done some of them, notably turning our tax collection over to the Town of Windham. But others are possible. We could save something like a million dollars a year by sending our high school students to schools other than Parish Hill and combining our grade school, which currently has only 88 students, with another town's; Hampton, with only 57 students, is the obvious candidate, but there are grade schools in other area towns that are also experiencing shortages of money and students. We could continue to send our students to Parish Hill, but save close to a half million dollars by paying per capita rather than per student. We could save less money, but still considerable sums, by combining school services with Hampton or other towns, or rejoining the central office of Region 11. We could save significant amounts by contracting with a private ambulance company to provide medical coverage in Scotland. We could take advantage of programs offered by NECCOG, such as animal control, engineering, and administrative services, to save money and operate town government more efficiently. We could aggressively seek state and federal grant money for infrastructure and other necessities.
I'm mentioning these not because I think we should do any of them, but just to say that there are options worth exploring, and I am open to exploring as many of them as I can. But it’s important to remember that all of them have upfront costs, and require us to give up some measure of local control--something that is precious to many people, and for which they are willing to pay a premium. I think we can reduce the amount of that premium, but any of the steps we take are likely to be divisive, as we have already seen in the various attempts to dissolve Region 11. On the other hand, if we don't take any steps, costs will inevitably continue to climb. When and if enough people are unwilling to continue to pay the price, then it may well be time to consider merging with another town.
I hope it does not come to that. I think the town can be made more sustainable, but only if we are all willing to put aside self-interest and ideology in service of a common goal, and to consider the options we have with an open mind and an eye toward a future in which Scotland remains a great place to live at a price we can afford.