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Matthew O'Brien

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Matthew obrien coventry 600x600

Party: Republican

CEP Status:

Website: www.coventryrtc.com

Age: 62

Marital Status: Married

Current Residence: Coventry

Current Job: Small Business Owner

Previous Job:

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Education: BS U of Notre Dame and MBA Healthcare Finance from Boston University

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Ctnj 75
Why are you running for this office?
I am the current Vice Chair of the Town Council and Chairman of the Finance Committee. We have accomplished a lot and have been able to find ways to reduce costs, enhance outcomes and save taxpayers money. The current State of CT budget crisis and the impacts the state budget will have on Coventry will require our experience and expertise to minimize the impacts of the cuts to our state revenues and possible new obligations from new unfunded mandates. I have very strong financial and analytical skills and am confident I can be of assistance going forward. Coventry is a special place and we want to make sure it stays that way.
Ctnj 75
What is the most pressing local issue facing your community and how would you solve it (within the capacity of the office for which you are running)?
Dealing with the state driven, large reductions in state education grants and other revenues that Coventry receives will put great strain on our services, our schools and our taxpayers. We have already put in place a freeze on hiring and discretionary spending, reduced our total budget to below last year's budget, negotiated salary freezes with some of our unions and non-union workers, and greatly reduced our capital expenditures. The Board of Education has co-operated and made reductions as well. Once the state finalizes a budget we will move quickly to put in place a permanent budget for Coventry and bring it to a town meeting and referendum. We have been without a budget since July 1st and have been operating under first a 90 day budget and now 30 day budgets each month. Our first job will be to respond to this year's state budget impacts but we must also continue to bring more planning to Coventry to help us respond to even more cuts in the future. The state had a $5.2 billion deficit in this year's bi-annual budget but they are projected to have a $3.5 billion deficit in the 2019 - 2020 budget and more in the future. The state's situation is dire. They have mis-managed and underfunded their pension funds for years and our payments into them will spiral many fold over the next 15 years and the state has made benefit promises to employees and retirees that are spiraling out of control. Coventry and other towns like Coventry will have to live with fewer and fewer revenues from the state going forward. We must put plans in place to mitigate the massive negative effects that will cause Coventry's taxpayers. Another big issue facing Coventry is crumbling foundations. There is a great concern that this problem is much more wide spread in Coventry than has been identified to date. Citizens are reluctant to have their properties identified as having this problem. There is fear and dread associated with this issue. We have become a lead community applying for CDBG Small Cities Program, Crumbling Foundations seeking grant money for foundation testing. We have waived building fees associated with repairing crumbling foundations and have been vocal advocates to the state legislature to have money for repairs included in the bi-annual budget. We are working with taxpayers who have identified this issue in their homes/businesses and are lowering their property assessments appropriately. Our town manager has been an excellent advocate for our town with CCM and COST and has helped shape their policies on this issue.
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With the state's ongoing budget crisis looming over the election, what are your plans for your community's budget? Is there anything you can do make your town less dependent on revenue from the state?
See my answer below about the most pressing issue. Beyond that we need to step up our efforts to bring new businesses into Coventry, we need to do even more to work with our neighbors in a regional way, we need to find new, better ways to perform town services that are more efficient and less expensive - and again regionalize where possible. The schools have been considering bringing in students from the outside because Coventry has seen a reduction of hundreds of students from our schools over the past decade and we have unused capacity that may lend itself to an arrangement that would bring new resources into the community. This would have to be structured properly to make certain that we are bringing in more revenues than our increases in costs if we do enter into this kind of an arrangement. We have made big changes in the past two years including bringing natural gas to our town complex which is conservatively projected to save $3 million in fuel and maintenance costs going forward. We can do more things like that to further reduce our costs. We need to purchase capital equipment, etc. through coalitions to realize more savings. There is much that can and needs to be done. We will do all we can to mitigate the negative impacts that the state budget crisis will have on Coventry.
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The legislature has been debating various ideas to allow towns to raise revenue locally through something other than property taxes. If you could ease your residents' property tax burden by adding another method of taxation, is there anything you might consider for your town?
I have not considered any new methods of taxing Coventry citizens. When combined with federal and state taxes we all pay too much in taxes already. The state needs to get its costs under control and stop entering into favorable contracts with groups, using taxpayers (and future taxpayers) money to get their support. That is why we are in the situation we are in now. Our town manager has suggested that the state change their taxing structure - perhaps to include a value added tax - to perhaps replace some of their sales and income taxes to bring more stability and predictability to the states revenues which presumably would impact the state's ability to provide more revenues to Coventry and other towns favorably.
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Are you in favor of regionalizing more services in conjunction with other nearby communities? If so, which ones?
We do work with other communities now for our health district, insurance, purchasing through group organizations, etc. We are beginning to discuss things like extending our police force's coverage to other towns, but that will be a policy decision and not just an economic one. At some point if the state continues to take away education grant funding in future years we may be forced to consider consolidating our school system with another or others - again these are things to be considered in a long range plan - but we need to begin having these discussions and getting input from our citizens. There are pros and cons to all such arrangements and we need informed taxpayers to provide input and direction before we will consider any such actions. If we can find ways to collaborate more with our neighbors in the areas of public works/roads, sewers, regional utility agreements, etc. we will look for those.
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Should your school district get the same amount of education funding from the state if your district's enrollment is dropping?
That is an interesting question. Because of mandatory arbitration, MBR, and other state mandates that control and limit real negotiations around education personnel costs our annual costs continue to rise every year even though we may have fewer students from one year to the next. Changes in educational funding must be accompanied with serious mandate relief and major structural changes to the rules that govern these costs. And any such changes must be phased in over a period of time sufficient to have those changes begin to take effect and for the schools and the town to adjust to them.
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What's one thing most people don't know about you?
My family and I love Coventry. It is a great town and we are happy to have raised our family here. I am happy to apply my financial and analytical skills and years of small business experience to keep Coventry special and affordable for all of our taxpayers. This truly is a big commitment of time but I feel that i and the current council are having a big impact and look forward to continuing to do this job next term.