Lawmakers from small towns looked Thursday for alternatives to a cut in the governor’s budget which will require municipalities with resident state troopers to foot the entire cost of the program.
Currently, the state pays about 30 percent of the costs associated with resident state troopers. The town where the trooper is stationed pays the remaining 70 percent.
In his Wednesday budget, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy proposed to eliminate the state’s share of the cost, shifting about $4.6 million onto towns that use the program as an alternative to having a municipal police force. The change is one of the few places where Malloy’s budget reduced state aid to towns.
But small towns say the reduction will have a large impact on their budgets. Several legislators representing smaller communities objected to the cut during a Thursday Appropriations Committee hearing with Malloy’s budget secretary Benjamin Barnes.
Rep. Linda Orange, D-Colchester, said the resident state trooper program is used by many towns in her district.
“A lot of them are small towns that can’t afford their own police department because of what it takes to do that,” she said. “Small, rural towns that don’t have the industry and the business and the tax base. Believe me, if they could support a police department they would.”
Barnes told the committee that administration officials had to cut “very deeply” in the two-year budget to close deficits of more $1 billion in each of the years. He said they prioritized conserving broad-based programs which helped many communities.
The state’s 30 percent share of the cost amounted to a state subsidy to towns with resident troopers rather than police departments, Barnes said. As it cut $590 million from the budget in the first year and $753 million in the second, the administration did not consider that subsidy to be a top priority, he said.
“To be frank, all the communities that have full-time police departments, pay for them entirely out of property tax revenues,” Barnes said. “Towns with resident state troopers, they only pay for 70 percent of the cost of their police.”
However, lawmakers said the state pays 30 percent of the cost for good reason. Unlike municipal police, who generally remain in the town they work for, resident state troopers are expected to respond to emergencies outside the towns where they are assigned.
“They don’t deduct the time they were out. Two, four hours, whatever, the town is paying them through that,” Orange said. “If the municipalities are paying 100 percent, I’m sure that many municipalities will scrap the program entirely.”
Legislators asked Barnes about some possible solutions to the conflict. Rep. Mike France, R-Preston, suggested the troopers should be mandated to remain in the town where they are stationed.
“Is the governor going to ensure that the resident trooper remains in the town he’s assigned to?” he asked Barnes. “When I was in municipal government the reason we were only paying 70 percent was because there were state duties that the trooper had to perform.”
Barnes said he would look into it.
“I was not aware of this issue but I would be happy to explore that and see whether that is an equitable part of the solution,” he said.
Rep. Craig Miner, R-Litchfield, asked whether the administration would consider giving towns more flexibility towns to rely on local constables. Barnes said he was willing to explore that idea as well.