Trooper cost fair

Small towns are seeking a reduction in their share of paying for the resident state troopers who provide police protection in 56 towns across the state. The problem is that the case they are making is not compelling.

In towns that want a local police presence, but are too small or too frugal to pay for a police force, the Connecticut State Police resident trooper program is a great option. These troopers serve in the towns, becoming familiar with the geography, the people and local officials. Towns can have one or more resident troopers. In some cases, they work with local constabularies.

Without a police force or resident trooper, towns are dependent on state police dispatched by the barracks in their region.

The basic cost to the towns has not changed in recent years. Towns pay 70 percent of the salaries and other associated costs, with the state picking up the difference. But in 2011, with the state facing a fiscal crisis, the legislature changed the formula to require towns to pay the full cost of any overtime resident troopers accrue while serving in those towns, along with associated fringe benefit expenses.

The Connecticut Council of Small Towns is asking the legislature to again cap the local contribution at 70 percent, including for overtime.

Among those leading the charge is state Sen. Cathy Osten, a Democrat and member of the Public Safety Committee who also happens to be first selectman of Sprague. The town utilizes the resident trooper program and cutting its costs would help Sen. Osten provide some tax relief for her local residents.

The problem is that the costs do not go away, they are only shifted, spread also among municipalities that have no resident troopers or that pay the cost for municipal police departments. It is hard to see how that is a better or fairer policy than sticking with the small increase the legislature enacted in 2011, paid for by the towns that benefit from the service.

The state, however, should address another gripe the small towns have. Local officials contend that the state is slow in providing information on increases in the cost of providing benefits for the troopers, the data sometimes coming after budgets are adopted. This is part of a larger problem for municipalities, with the state budget process lagging behind those at the local level, often making it difficult for mayors, councils and selectmen to determine what size revenues from the state they can count on.

In some cases this is due to prolonged budget fights at the legislative level, but in other cases the state has the numbers and simply needs to get them to local officials more expeditiously.

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