Hugh McQuaid photo
Harwinton First Selectman Michael Criss (Hugh McQuaid photo)

Small towns slated to pay more for resident state troopers under Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s proposed budget may abandon the trooper program and create regional police departments, Harwinton First Selectman Michael Criss told lawmakers Tuesday.

The governor’s budget assumes about $4.6 million in savings from eliminating the state’s share of funding for the resident state trooper 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.

During a hearing of the legislature’s Public Safety and Security Committee, Criss predicted those saving would not materialize because towns would find alternatives to using resident troopers. He said Harwinton is considering creating a regional department between the town and nearby Burlington.

“The state is not, essentially, at the end of the day, going to save the $4 million that’s proposed or any other money if municipalities opt out or regionalize police stations. Quite honestly, that’s one of the things we’re looking at right now in our community,” he said.

Regional police departments would be a new approach in Connecticut. Unlike many other states, Connecticut does not have county-level government or law enforcement agencies.

Criss said a new department would require significant initial expenses from Harwinton, a small town with about 5,600 residents. He expects it to cost as much as $500,000 to get the department up and running but said the town would save money in the long run.

“The upfront cost would be expensive because we’d have to purchase vehicles and stuff like that,” he said. But “our town would actually save close to $70,000 a year for ongoing costs.”

Criss said his town would prefer to maintain the resident trooper program. He said residents like having the two troopers in town. But he said taxpayers are concerned about how the town will manage to pay the extra cost.

If towns are going to be paying 100 percent of the cost for the troopers, Criss suggested the troopers should be managed exclusively by the town. The two troopers stationed in Harwinton are called away on state business an average of 67 times a month, he said.

“The state takes our resident trooper out of our community to do traffic tickets or other investigations throughout the area. Not fair to the municipality. We’re still paying for them,” he said.

Rep. Joe Verrengia, D-West Hartford, encouraged towns to consider alternatives like regional departments.

“It seems to me that this issue always comes up every year and will continue to come up — this is an old model. Change is in the air, whether it’s this year, two or three years down the road, I don’t know. I think it would behoove these small towns to really take a good look at it,” he said.

Rep. Linda Orange, D-Colchester, said her town was also looking into a merged department. But she suggested Criss try discontinuing the resident trooper program because his town would still be covered by the state police if it had no police force. Orange said it was “kind of an insult” to make towns pay 100 percent of the cost when resident troopers are often called out of town.

“I think that merging or just plain dropping it and see what happens with the troops. You’ll save yourself a lot of money and the state’s going to lose a lot of money,” she said.

Criss said just dropping the program was one of the options he intended to present in his town budget proposal. Orange said the Malloy administration erred by proposing the change.

“Putting this in the budget was a big mistake on the administrative side because there’s going to be a loss of revenue to the state if everyone bails,” she said.