Officials from Connecticut’s Regional Councils of Government are seeking a state grant of $850,000 to create a statewide municipal boundary dataset that they say would help reduce costs for towns, inform emergency services, enable environmental and economic development studies, and open the door to more cost savings for maintaining mapping data.
According Sam Gold, chair of the Connecticut Association of Councils of Government, the project is an effort to address discrepancies of as much as a quarter mile between digital maps used by neighboring towns to locate municipal boundaries
“We’re in the 21st century, and we don’t know where the town lines are,” Gold said in a Monday phone interview. “It’s as simple as that, and it’s shocking and surprising. On paper, the towns may know, and there’s definitely monumentation for what town boundaries are built off of, but in the digital world we don’t know where they are.”
Those discrepancies hamper efforts by government and planners to understand and address issues that include emergency management, flooding, economic development, and the effects of taxing on local economies.
According to Gold, the project would be a first step toward a longer-term goal of creating a statewide digital map of every parcel in every town in Connecticut.
Gold said that a uniform statewide map would be much more useful, and potentially less expensive to maintain, than 169 separate maps and datasets for towns across Connecticut.
When asked why an effort was being proposed by regional agencies and not by state government, Gold said that it came down to staffing.
“The Office of Policy and Management doesn’t currently have the staffing to do this so this is an example of the [councils of government] showing leadership and getting this done,” Gold said.
Funding through the RPIP Program
In December 2019, Michael Towle, deputy director of the Western Connecticut Council of Governments (WestCOG), submitted a grant application seeking $852,612 from the state’s Regional Performance Initiative Program. The program uses state revenues from hotel and car rental taxes to fund voluntary intermuncipal and shared regional services that have the potential to provide economies of scale.
As described in Towle’s application, the funds would pay for consultants to create the boundaries for all the state’s towns and cities that don’t currently have them. This would involve studying land records and in some cases performing field surveys of borders.
WestCOG would manage the funds and the state’s nine regional councils of governments would each oversee the consultants working within their regions.
The Lower Connecticut River Valley Council of Governments (RiverCOG) completed a similar but smaller-scale project in 2015 that mapped out boundaries for its member towns. Towle and Sam Gold, who is also the executive director of RiverCOG, said that they were able to take lessons and calculate likely costs for the project based on that ealier project.
Towle said that they learned from RiverCOG to include extra funds for marking property lines, a process called monumentation. Gold added that the timing of the survey work could also affect cost.
“Our survey work ended up being in the winter,” Gold said, “and we had a very heavy winter [that year] so our surveyors had to hunt for monuments and dig them out, so if they were to do them in the early spring or in the late fall that would have been easier.”
These surveys would not be legally binding, Gold said, because they would use a lower-cost type of survey with less rigor than is used in legal disputes. Gold estimated that it could cost $10 million or more to create legally-binding maps for the entire state.
Towle acknowledged that the plan for a statewide boundary map may not be funded through this grant program, but he said that it was still important to introduce government leaders to the idea.
“This project may not be the best for the [Regional Performance Initiative Program] application, and it may be better for the state to undertake it through some other avenue,” Towle said. “But we want to show that we’re moving forward and having these conversations and trying to figure this out because you need good data to push services along.”