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Towns seek changes in charges for resident state trooper

By Kimberly Drelich

Publication: The Day

Published February 20. 2014 4:00AM   Updated February 20. 2014 12:44PM

Cromwell - The Connecticut Council of Small Towns is asking the state to revise how much communities contribute to the cost of having resident state troopers and also to notify them early about any cost increases.

Many small towns depend on resident state troopers for public safety, but the program has become increasingly expensive for the communities in recent years, according to COST's legislative platform. The association of 139 small towns adopted the platform, with several legislative proposals, Wednesday at its annual town meeting.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman, and state legislators also addressed the council on issues small towns face.

Specifically, COST is pushing to lower how much towns contribute to troopers' overtime costs and associated fringe benefits. Towns pay 70 percent for most of the troopers' costs, except for overtime costs and associated benefits, which they have covered fully since 2011. COST said towns' contribution to overtime costs and benefits should also be capped at 70 percent.

The state in 2011 enacted a law mandating towns to fully fund resident troopers' overtime costs as well as fringe benefits associated with those costs. The towns were previously paying 70 percent.

On another point, COST proposed that the state notify communities early on about any benefit rate increases for troopers so the towns can plan for those additional costs in their budgets.

Andrew Urban, Westbrook's finance director, told the state's new public safety commissioner, Dora Schriro, that towns receive the troopers' contracts in February but don't get an exact calculation on how much the benefit rates will increase until months later, when the state adopts its budget.

"I think we're all surprised when we get the actual bill that the fringe benefit rate keeps popping up every year - 6, 7, 8, 9 percent," he said. "We're up to 82 percent on our fringe benefit rate. How can we budget for this cost when we're putting our budgets together in February and March, and then get this huge surprise?"

Schriro said she approached the state comptroller's office this week to see if there was a way to give towns a better sense of the costs earlier in the budget cycle.

In her speech at the COST meeting, she also explained that any changes to the cost-sharing formula between the state and towns for the program, which assigns 110 troopers to 56 towns, would need to go through the state legislature.

State Sen. Cathy Osten, a member of the public safety committee and Sprague's first selectwoman, has introduced a bill in the public safety committee to return the overtime and fringe benefits to the pre-2011 rate. She said in an interview that the bill language is being drafted, and a public hearing will be scheduled. She encouraged small towns to voice their opinions at the hearing.

At a Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments meeting Tuesday, some local officials also said some of the program's costs were a concern.

In response to a question about resident trooper efficiencies at the COST meeting Wednesday, Malloy said his administration was not planning any changes to the resident trooper program, but that Schriro is reviewing state police operations and may decide to propose minor adjustments.

He said each town would need to do its own financial analysis to see if the resident trooper program saves money compared to hiring its own force.

"But I'm not trying to make anybody make that choice," Malloy said.

k.drelich@theday.com

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