Town budgets would feel pinch if forced to bear full expense of resident troopers

North Stonington — First Selectman Nicholas Mullane says the loss of state financial support for the town's Resident State Trooper program will strain the town's already modest budget and translate into a drop in police patrols across the rural town.

Mullane and a host of other town leaders are expressing frustration over the governor's proposal to require towns to pay the full cost of the program instead of the 70 percent they are now paying. North Stonington, which employs three troopers, stands to lose nearly $145,000.

"This is very disappointing," said Mullane. "It's going to mean less service to the people of North Stonington. It really leaves us with no choice but to raise taxes or cut services."

Town leaders opposed to the proposal spoke at a public hearing of the legislature's Finance Committee on Monday.

The Connecticut Conference of Municipalities released results of a survey that showed on average it would cost towns more than $108,000 to maintain their programs. It would cost an additional $3.1 million for the 29 towns that responded to the survey. Increases include $60,000 in Ledyard, $58,000 in Montville, $84,000 in Salem and $45,000 in East Lyme. There are 60 towns with a Resident State Trooper program.

"For many small towns, this increase would be unsustainable," according to the CCM statement. "Local officials would have to decide whether to continue to participate in the program, or rely on troopers from the barracks to provide necessary public safety. If this occurs, it is unlikely that the State will benefit from the anticipated $4 million savings this proposal forecasts, as troopers will still be required to patrol and respond to incidents in the community."

CCM spokesman Kevin Maloney said the amount of money the state would save doesn't provide a payback "that exceeds the problems it's going to create."

The jump in costs may also lead to more discussions about the creation of local police forces as it has in Ledyard, where the police department is under the oversight of a resident trooper program. Last week, Ledyard Mayor John Rodolico announced that the proposed increase to the resident trooper program, along with desire to provide local police supervision, will lead to a cost benefit analysis of a town police department.

Preston First Selectman Bob Congdon said last month that resident trooper expenses would jump by more than $103,000, which has led to discussions of alternatives to the program, such as partnerships with surrounding towns or possibly dropping one of the two troopers from the budget.

Connecticut Council of Small Towns Executive Director Betsy Gara issued a statement Monday saying, "cuts to the Resident State Trooper program will undermine public safety in our smaller communities by forcing town to cut back on the number of troopers or abandon the program altogether."

"If this happens, everyone loses," Gara said.

g.smith@theday.com

Twitter: SmittyDay

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