Preston officials to examine less-expensive policing options

Preston - Town officials will research various options for police coverage to avoid the rising cost of the resident state trooper program, which has gone up by about $40,000 over the past three years, First Selectman Robert Congdon said Thursday.

Possible changes could include replacing one of the town's two resident troopers with a constable officer, seeking to obtain police coverage through Ledyard or Norwich or simply cutting back to one resident trooper. Preston has had two resident troopers since the 1970s, Congdon said.

The Board of Selectmen at its meeting Thursday agreed to ask the Emergency Services Advisory Committee to research the costs, benefits and legal issues associated with the various options. The committee next meets on June 7.

The study was prompted by changes in state policy that now calls for towns to cover the entire cost of overtime for resident troopers, as well as the full cost of fringe benefits. At first, towns were not required to pay fringe benefits, and then were required to pay ever-growing portions of those costs.

No change would take place in the near future, Congdon said. The town has year-to-year contracts with the two current resident troopers, and those costs are already in the proposed 2014-15 budget. Cong don said the consideration of whether to cut to one resident trooper would depend on whether one of the current troopers decides to retire.

Preston has eliminated overtime to save some money, Congdon said, but that leaves the town with no third-shift resident state trooper, during the period of time when local bars close for the night.

"Personally I think the resident trooper program is a great program for the towns, and a great program for the state," Congdon said. "It would be a shame if the towns are priced out of that market."

Resident Trooper Timothy Paige estimated the town could save more than $100,000 over a three-year period if the town replaced a resident trooper with a constable.

But Congdon said the savings could only be realized under certain conditions. He would like to consider hiring a retired trooper, who is already trained and receiving benefits from his or her retirement package. Congdon said he will ask the town attorney if the town legally can place those conditions on an advertisement.

Legal questions also surround the concept of purchasing police coverage from a neighboring town, Congdon said.

Resident Andy Depta said the town should consider a minimum of a five-year period when studying the costs and benefits of making police coverage changes.


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