Malloy again proposes shifting full cost of troopers to towns

It’s not the first time one of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s proposed budgets has suggested towns participating in the resident state trooper program should foot its full cost.

Back in 2015, that proposal inspired many local leaders to intensify talks about the viability of the program, which once was a 50-50 deal. Some towns, including Ledyard, since have transitioned to independent police forces in part because of those conversations.

Ultimately, the legislature in mid-2015 settled on asking towns to pay for 85 percent of the salaries “and other expenses” of their first two state troopers and 100 percent for any additional ones. It also made towns responsible for 100 percent of overtime costs.

This year, Malloy’s proposed budget again says the towns should pay 100 percent for all resident troopers, a move that would bring in about $1.5 million for the fiscally struggling state.

It further adds a surcharge of $750 for each constable a trooper supervises, apparently to reimburse the state for costs associated with records, technology services and the growing number of constables.

Locally, many leaders saw the proposal as disheartening, but not as shocking as possible changes in education-related funding that could cost them millions.

In Preston, where a committee already has been looking at partnering with either Norwich or Ledyard police rather than with state police, First Selectman Robert Congdon called the proposal “horrible.”

“We saw the writing on the wall a number of years ago that they were going to continue to nibble at this until it became cost-prohibitive,” Congdon said.

Preston this fiscal year has budgeted $322,650 for its two troopers. Malloy’s proposal would mean at minimum an increase of $48,400 in costs to the town.

With large-scale development likely in the town in the coming years, some officials have suggested to wait to make any decision regarding police coverage until there’s a better understanding of what demands the development could bring.

But Congdon said Malloy’s proposal makes him inclined to push for shorter-term changes more quickly if it’s determined those changes would provide the same or better police coverage for the same or lower costs.

In East Lyme, First Selectman Mark Nickerson said the possible cost increase solidifies the reasoning he and other members of the Board of Selectmen used in November, when they unanimously voted to transition to an independent police department.

Had the town opted to stay in the program, he said, it would be looking at a possible $15,000 increase for the trooper and an additional about $17,000 stemming from the new $750-per-constable surcharge. That increase, he said, would happen despite the fact troopers don’t work solely in the towns to which they’re assigned.

Instead, he anticipates East Lyme officially will leave the program in the next 60 to 90 days. Because towns in the program pay for the services of their troopers after the fact, East Lyme will have to budget for both a trooper and an incoming police chief in the coming fiscal year. From there, however, the town should see net savings, Nickerson has said.

“I think the resident state trooper program is a great example of the state and towns working together, but with all the burden of costs going onto the town, it’s no longer an affordable option for many towns,” he said.

Malloy’s proposal also is affecting conversations in Old Lyme and North Stonington.

Earlier this year, members of the Troop F state police barracks in Westbrook asked Old Lyme to consider adding a second resident state trooper and decreasing the number of full-time officers it employs from six to four.

It’s a good time for the town to have that conversation, as two of its officer positions are vacant.

Old Lyme First Selectwoman Bonnie Reemsnyder said that while Malloy's proposal won’t end the conversation, town leaders will assume they’ll be liable for 100 percent of the troopers’ costs in their calculations.

She expects the town will have a clearer idea of its law enforcement future by the time it publicly presents its budget in April.

Like other town politicians, she said more concerning is the proposed requirement that municipalities bear one-third of the cost of their teachers' retirement pensions. In Old Lyme, that could add more than $1 million in expenditures to the budget.

“My fear is this is a harbinger of the future and where we are going as a state,” Reemsnyder said of the state’s shifting of costs to municipalities. “The towns may have to adjust.”

North Stonington First Selectman Shawn Murphy said his town could be facing a $1.6 million shortfall in part because of the pension payment proposal. That’s in addition to taking on increased costs as the town begins its school renovation project.

The town in December 2015 reduced its number of resident state troopers from three to two — a move Murphy said at the time was “against supporting public safety” in the 55-square-mile town.

Now, as North Stonington grapples with other cuts, Murphy said officials may revisit discussions about enlisting public safety services from neighboring towns and doing away with the resident trooper program.

“Unless the governor’s budget impact is reduced or unless we drastically cut services somewhere, we’d be faced with 6.5-mill increase in one year,” Murphy said. “So the approximately $51,000 increase for the troopers — it’s a concern, but not the major concern.”


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