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One of top legislative priorities of the Connecticut Council of Small Towns is maintaining the viability of the Resident State Trooper Program.
For more than 60 years, the Resident State Trooper Program has been a strong state-local partnership, critical to protecting the public safety of our citizens and businesses. Unfortunately, the costs associated with the program have increased dramatically over the last few years. In 2011, the state legislature increased from 70 percent to 100 percent the amount towns are required to reimburse the state for overtime costs. This shifted a considerable burden onto Connecticut's small towns at a time when state aid to municipalities continued to be largely flat funded and the cost of providing critical services escalated.
On top of this, towns are seeing a spike in the cost of providing fringe benefits. This year, towns were notified that effective July 1 there was a big increase in the cost towns must pay for fringe benefits in the trooper program. Notification came well after local budgets were adopted. In some cases, the cost is now more than double the fringe benefit rate paid for municipal employees. Due to this big jump in costs, many towns are now faced with budget shortfalls.
The Resident State Trooper Program is a valuable partnership with the state that helps smaller towns create and maintain safe communities. As the state considers ways of encouraging towns to form regional partnerships to deliver services more efficiently, we must remember that the Resident State Trooper Program is a regional partnership that allows the state and the towns to share responsibility for providing critical public safety services.
Unfortunately, shifting more of the costs for public safety onto the backs of local property taxpayers compromises this partnership and undermines the viability of the program. To what end? If towns are forced to abandon the Resident State Trooper Program, the state must shoulder 100 percent of the costs associated with providing public safety coverage in these areas.
Clearly, the Resident State Trooper Program - if local costs are reined in - is a win-win for both the state and our local communities.
Betsy Gara is executive director of the Connecticut Council of Small Towns.