Preston residents to decide whether to hire second resident state trooper

Preston — The Board of Finance reversed its position of three earlier votes and agreed to send a request to add a second resident state trooper for the remainder of the current fiscal year.

The board voted 4-2 Wednesday to recommend appropriating $61,022 to hire a second resident trooper, but First Selectman Robert Congdon said it’s too late to start by the targeted date of Jan. 5. And because of the later start time, the cost would be slightly less than the $61,022 calculated prior to the meeting.

The request was presented to the Board of Selectmen in a petition signed by at least 20 residents asking to reinstate the second resident trooper. With the Board of Finance approval of the allocation, the request will be presented to residents at a town meeting. Congdon said the Board of Selectmen likely will set the town meeting date at its Dec. 28 meeting.

The issue would not need to go to referendum, because the salary cost for half the fiscal year is less than the minimum $100,000 spending level that would trigger a referendum.

Finance board members in favor of the request agreed with acting Chairman Jerry Grabarek that mainly they favored sending the issue to residents to decide. Members expressed concern that, with mid-year cuts in state revenues, the cost of the trooper potentially could consume nearly 10 percent of the $686,000 in available surplus funds. The town keeps 9.5 percent of its overall surplus untouched in case of catastrophic emergencies.

Board members Kenneth Zachem and Dan Duprey voted against recommending the appropriation.

“I’ve always voted no on any large expenditure midpoint in the budget,” Zachem said.

The town had two resident troopers until this year, when the Board of Finance cut the budget to one trooper in response to a state proposal that towns incur the entire cost of salary and benefits for resident troopers. Congdon said, however, that the legislature ultimately kept the towns’ share at 85 percent of salary costs. That would give the town some funding in the current $322,650 resident trooper office budget to pay a portion of the second trooper's salary, if residents approve it.

The Board of Finance had voted three times since spring against having a second resident state trooper this fiscal year. The Board of Selectmen initially recommended including a second resident trooper in the budget, but the finance board removed the funding. Residents at the budget town meeting in May expressed support for the second trooper, but the finance board voted again to keep the budget at one resident state trooper.

The finance board voted a third time to reject the recommended appropriation after the town received the petition.


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