State trooper provision in state budget could cost towns
After the state House of Representatives and then the Senate on Wednesday narrowly passed a controversial $40.3 billion state budget — one that will boost state tax revenue by almost $2 billion — some towns with resident state troopers are concerned about how it could impact their bottom lines.
Though Gov. Dannel Malloy has yet to sign the budget, he indicated Thursday that he does not plan to veto it.
Among the budget's many debated provisions is one that changes how much towns will have to pay for each resident state trooper they enlist. As it stands, the towns foot 70 percent of each trooper's costs while the state pays the rest.
In the state budget, municipalities would have to pay 85 percent of "the cost of compensation, maintenance and other expenses of the first two state policemen detailed to such town," and 100 percent for any additional resident state troopers.
Towns also would be responsible for 100 percent of overtime costs.
For a town such as North Stonington — whose residents just passed a $5.7 million general government budget Tuesday — the new rule, if approved by Malloy, could mean a big shortfall.
At a May 26 townwide meeting, North Stonington residents authorized the town to enter into a two-year agreement for the services of three resident state troopers from July 1 to June 30, 2017, although they were wary of the state budget proceedings.
"As we understand, they are not changing anything" regarding compensation for the troopers, First Selectman Nick Mullane said at that meeting.
In the approved budget, the town allotted $434,768 to fund 70 percent of the costs of those three troopers.
Based on that number, each trooper and his or her overtime on average costs about $207,000, which means the new state trooper regulation could result in more than $120,000 in additional costs.
Mullane Thursday said he is "really disappointed the state did this."
He said the next step is to sit with the other two selectmen and go through the numbers, deciding whether to stick with three troopers or drop to two.
"I'm of the opinion we can, if they change the rules, then we can revise the contract," Mullane said.
Mullane said the budget, as passed, had "extra money" in the state trooper line item to fund additional patrols for things such as the Memorial Day parade and the annual fair. He said the selectmen first will see if they can make cuts in those categories before deciding to get rid of a trooper.
"When there's an event in the area ... one trooper on the highway and one in the area is not enough," Mullane said.
Other towns, too, could see shortfalls if Malloy signs the state budget as-is.
Preston First Selectman Robert Congdon said his town would receive little additional aid, and it would be more than wiped out by the increase the town would have to pay for the two resident state troopers. The change would add $51,000 to the about $3.35 million town budget already approved by voters, Congdon said.
In Ledyard, the increase to bearing 85 percent of expenses could cost anywhere from $15,000 to $25,000 more than what was spent in the current year for the town's sole trooper. The current year's revised budget puts that expenditure at about $146,000.
But, Mayor John Rodolico said, the $190,000 the town budgeted for the state trooper for next fiscal year assumed the state would charge towns with funding the entire cost of their troopers — something Malloy had laid out in his proposed budget.
"We felt that would be safe," he said.
The state's move, Rodolico said, makes him "more interested" in the option of transitioning to an independent police department. Such a department is something Ledyard has been exploring because its new police facility would be able to accommodate one.
"There are benefits you get from being in the state system and having state oversight, but you can't negotiate that cost," he said. "You don't have option to ask for a less expensive trooper."
East Lyme is in a similar situation, as it also budgeted enough to cover 100 percent of the costs of the town's resident trooper in its contingency for 2015-16.
First Selectman Mark Nickerson said the change will cost an estimated additional $20,000 to $25,000 from what the town paid in the current year. A subcommittee in town has been looking into creating an independent police force, a conversation Nickerson said doesn't just concern financials, but also the cultivation of opportunities for the town's police to manage their own department.
"It's a discussion the community needs to have," he said.
Day Staff writers Claire Bessette and Kimberly Drelich contributed to this report.