HARTFORD, CT — It didn’t get a lot of attention compared to the big-ticket items in Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s two-year, $41.5 billion budget, but one of the programs that the state no longer wants any part of funding is the cost of the resident state troopers that cover 54 towns.
Currently the state foots the bill for only 15 percent of the cost of troopers. Malloy wants the towns that use troopers to pay 100 percent of the cost – which he estimates would save the state, which is facing a $1.6 billion budget deficit next year, $1.5 million annually.
The governor is also proposing charging each town $750 for every constable in town supervised by a resident state trooper, which he estimates would put another $200,000 annually in the state coffers.
“This is very, very troubling, especially as towns try to grapple with other budget cuts to school and municipal aid,” Betsy Gara, executive director of the Connecticut Council of Small Towns, said Thursday.
“The percentage of costs for towns that use the program has continually risen over the past few years,” Gara said. “It’s a shame because the resident state trooper program has been a great success.”
In the last budget cycle, the municipalities’ share of the resident state trooper costs went from 70 percent to its current 85 percent of the cost.
The program, which operates in 54 communities, allows a state trooper to serve as the top law-enforcement official in a town and supervise local officers. When it was launched in 1947, the state paid for the full cost of the program.
Thirty-three towns have one resident trooper, 11 have two, and eight have three or more, including Mansfield, which has eight.
Two of them, Bridgewater and Roxbury, share one trooper.
The total number of troopers assigned to towns is 97.
Resident troopers have the same powers as regular state police officers and are entitled to the same rights and subject to the same rules and regulations as the State Police.
A town that wants resident troopers must enter into a contract with the State Police. The contract can be for up to two years and may be terminated by either party.
Mansfield Town Manager Matt Hart, whose town uses more resident troopers than any other town in the state, said the town is “very reliant’’ on resident troopers, but the cost is becoming a problem.
“A few years back we had 14-15 troopers and the cost of the program was $1.1 million,” Hart said. “Now we are down to the eight troopers but our costs are up to $1.5 million.”
Hartt said Mansfield conducted a police services study back in 2012 and decided to stick with the resident trooper program, in part, because of cost. Hart said if the entire cost was placed back on the towns, as Malloy is suggesting, “I’m not sure that is still the case.”
In explaining the governor’s rationale for turning over the entire cost of the program to the towns at a budget briefing on Wednesday, Office of Policy and Management Secretary Ben Barnes said: “It always seemed to me that they should consider working together and forming regional police departments. If I were a town leader I would consider that a cost effective alternative.”
Hart said he heard Barnes’ suggestion about forming regional police departments, but he said that is easier said than done.
“A regional policing system is an interesting concept,” Hart said. “But a multi-system creates issues such as who would be the employer. The state could help us out by establishing state statutes in creating regional police districts – just as they have done in establishing regional health districts.”
Hart added that since Mansfield has eight resident troopers many times those troopers are called on to help with policing issues in neighboring towns.
“We’re glad to help our neighbors,” Hart said, but he added none of the towns pick up the costs of salaries or benefits that Mansfield currently foots.
Gara noted that the towns also pay 100 percent of any overtime costs and a portion of fringe benefits directly associated with overtime costs.
Gara that COST is continuing to explore the option, as Barnes suggesting, of having towns share police services, as Bridgewater and Roxbury do.
But she also added that there are other benefits to a resident trooper program that money can’t cover.
“Having a resident state trooper in town means you have a true partner in your town,” she said.
“The resident troopers work in the school systems, especially as part of the D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) program and are known and seen by those in the community and neighborhoods they work in.
“It’s a program we’d like to retain,” Gara said, adding COST would be discussing policing options with its members who use resident troopers while keeping an eye on whether Malloy’s recommendation is approved by the full General Assembly.