One full-time worker and a part-timer already have received pink slips while plans may be underway to move the horses from Newtown’s Second Company Horse Guard to Avon as early as Friday, according to General Assembly representatives.
With such imminent plans in place for the consolidation of the First and Second companies, Reps. DebraLee Hovey (R-112, Monroe, Newtown) and Chris Lyddy (D-106, Newtown), Sen. John McKinney (R-Fairfield) and Selectman Will Rodgers held a press conference at the horse guard facility Thursday to ask the public to support the horse guard.
"We heard consistently not just our own constituents here but from constituents from across the state as to how important the mounted militia are," Hovey said.
Officials vowed to fight to keep the guard in Newtown, though acknowledged the state military department already might have plans underway for the consolidation.
“We’re being told there might be an attempt to move the horses as soon as tomorrow,” McKinney said, adding that the full consolidation might not conclude until August. “Our immediate goal is to stay any change.”
A spokesman for the military department did not respond to requests seeking to confirm plans for consolidation.
The lawmakers said they were in contact with military officials and members of the governor's office to further discuss their concerns.
Gov. Dannel Malloy is seeking to to balance the state budget and fill a $1.6 billion hole in light of a recent failure by state workers to approve a concessions package that would have allowed for those savings to be realized.
As part of Malloy’s latest plans, the military department, which includes the Connecticut National Guard and Horse Guard, would lose nearly $900,000 from its budget this year and more than $1 million the following year. The cuts would mean eight fewer positions this fiscal year, according to the governor’s plans.
State lawmakers said the two people in the horse guard who received the pink slips this week were likely intended to be part of those eight layoffs. Malloy is expected to unveil details of his latest plans on Friday.
Overall, the governor is calling for the .
While early in the budget season, Malloy had proposed consolidating the Second Company with the First Company in Avon, he backed away those plans after lobbying from Lyddy, Hovey and McKinney.
But the restoration of those funds was contingent on a deal to be reached with the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition. Rank-and-file state workers eventually rejected the deal.
Lyddy said in light of the possibility of cuts being made to programs such as the horse guard, the state employees' union should "fix the problem" and get the concessions deal passed, a call many Democratic lawmakers have been making.
Local lawmakers said the implications of losing the horse guard in Newtown were many, including the potential for the property to continue to fall in disrepair, or be vulnerable to being sold for development rather than open space.
In addition, officials said that except for the full time and part-time worker, all of the members of the horse guard unit are volunteers who give of their time and energy freely.
“For every dollar we save we’re going to lose four to five volunteer dollars in terms of man hours they put in,” Newtown Selectman Will Rodgers said. “This is an entity that pays for itself.”
Officials said that while the consolidation may just be the military department’s response to Malloy’s call for cuts, they believed it was a short-sighted one because the cuts can be achieved in the long-term and still have both companies in operation.
For instance, while the Second Company was to have been budgeted $79,000, the actual cost was closer to $50,000 with opportunities to cover that amount through fundraising activities, officials said.
Lawmakers suggested the horse guard be broken off from the military department.
News that the Second Company may be in danger of closing did not sit well with supporters, including Cheri Panzica, who attended Thursday’s press conference.
“Two hundred years of history – it’s blood, sweat and tears they’re eliminating,” she said.