First Selectmen and locally elected officials from towns across the state gathered Wednesday at the state Capitol to hold their state lawmakers accountable on a number of issues including the state budget.
One of those issues, which took many by surprise last week, was a May 12 letter from the Department of Public Safety. The letter informed towns with resident state troopers that they will have to pay a percentage of fringe benefits for the overtime the resident state troopers worked this year.
State Comptroller Nancy Wyman told the Council of Small Towns Wednesday that there is nothing she can do about the state’s decision to go after this money. She said the Department of Public Safety discovered an accounting error last April and should have been charging the towns for these benefits. However, she said waiting until may to inform municipalities about the error would upset her as well.
“They’re up in arms and I can’t blame them,” Wyman said.
The estimated $1 million in revenue that will be collected from the accounting glitch was included in Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s budget proposal, Wyman said.
Deep River First Selectman Richard Smith said his town’s $14 million budget is to be sent to a referendum vote next week and it’s too late to account for what may be thousands of additional dollars the town owes the state.
“My concern here is that it’s a last minute thing,” Smith said.
Smith said he’s now forced to scramble to speak to legislators about delaying the payment. Luckily, Deep River has just one state trooper. Smith said towns with two or three state troopers may be asked to pay tens of thousands of dollars.
Already upset that Gov. M. Jodi Rell proposed shifting 100 percent of the cost of the resident state trooper program to towns, Smith said the resident state trooper program where the town pays 70 percent and the state pays 30 percent of the tab for the troopers, “is a very good system.”
The Democrat-controlled Appropriations Committee and the Republican budget proposal restored Rell’s cuts to the resident state trooper program.
While Sen. President Donald Williams, D-Brooklyn, said the state was trying to bring the same kind of accountability elected officials experience at the local level to the state budgeting process, many local officials seemed doubtful.
Simsbury First Selectwoman Mary Glassman said her town passed its budget Tuesday by a 4-to-1 margin. Simsbury’s budget included a modest 1.69 percent spending increase and a 0.5 mill rate increase.
“Where’s the accountability?” Glassman said.
Many local elected officials must put their budgets together not knowing what they will be getting in state funding.
House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero, R-Norwalk, said that “at the very least we need to get a budget and get it quickly.” At the moment, he said, the state seems to be “nowhere” when it comes to state budget negotiations.
Local leaders also expressed concern about a number of other issues, such as unfunded mandates and probate court reforms.
Click here to read our report from earlier this week on the lack of progress in closed-door budget negotiations between the legislative and executive branches.