Preston residents approve second resident state trooper

Preston — Residents voted overwhelmingly in favor of restoring a second resident state trooper position to the current town budget at a town meeting Thursday, sending the issue to the Board of Finance for a vote on the appropriation.

But the finance board already has voted three times to reject the concept of restoring the second state trooper. If the Board of Finance does approve the new request to fund the position, and if the cost is greater than $100,000, the question again would be forwarded to residents at a referendum, First Selectman Robert Congdon said.

Residents debated the issue for about a half-hour Thursday before voting 30-16 in favor of adding a second resident trooper for the remainder of the current fiscal year, as requested by a petition signed by at least 20 residents.

Those in favor argued that the town lost a degree of public safety when it dropped the second trooper in July. They cited an increase in home burglaries in recent months and said the resident troopers also forge positive relationships with town youth, including participating in this week’s “trunk or treat” event for Halloween.

Resident Jack Smallwood, however, said it wasn’t worth the expense for the town to add a second resident trooper. He instead favored renewing talks with Norwich to bring full-time police coverage to Preston. Smallwood said when Mohegan Gaming and Entertainment develops its planned sports, recreation and commercial complex at the former Norwich Hospital property, the town will need full-time police coverage.

Others argued that the development is a few years away, and the question of adding a second resident trooper would be for the remainder of the current fiscal year.

Resident Susan Strader said residents already have voiced their support for a second resident trooper at the spring budget town meeting, but the Board of Finance removed the funding regardless.

The Board of Selectmen last spring included the request in its budget, but the Board of Finance reduced the coverage to one resident state trooper, citing the state’s new requirement that the town pay the full cost of salary and benefits. The finance board voted again to keep the budget at one resident trooper.

And after the petition was received, the Board of Finance voted Oct. 18 against appropriating the estimated $149,000 for the second trooper.

Residents also Thursday voted overwhelmingly in favor of purchasing a used backhoe for $40,000 with money already in the capital nonrecurring account.

The only item that received unanimous approval and applause Thursday came at the end of the town meeting, when Congdon announced that electricity to 100 percent of the town was restored as of 6:50 p.m. Thursday. Preston was one of the towns hit hard by Sunday’s wind and rain storm, with power knocked out for hundreds of residents and businesses.

c.bessette@theday.com

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