Financial share for trooper program grows

Towns that take part in the resident state trooper program won’t have to bear the full financial burden of the program this fiscal year, but that burden got heavier.

The state’s two-year budget, which was passed at the end of June, increases the percentage municipalities that use the program have to pay from 70 percent to 85 percent in the 2015-16 fiscal year. The state is responsible for the other 15 percent.

As the state deliberated its budget, it was first proposed that towns that use the program would have to cover the full cost. Ultimately, it was decided that towns would pay 85 percent, with the anticipation that that percentage would increase to 100 percent next fiscal year.

Prospect and Beacon Falls are two of the 56 municipalities in the state that utilize the state trooper program. Both towns had their budgets set before the state’s spending plan was finalized. As a result, both municipalities were unsure about how much the state would require them to pay for the program.

Prospect Mayor Robert Chatfield said the town increased its budget for the state trooper program by $21,000 to $145,000.

Chatfield said this week he had not received the final numbers for the cost of the resident state trooper, so he was unsure how close the town’s budget is to the final number.

Beacon Falls First Selectmen Christopher Bielik said officials chose to put the entire cost of the trooper into the budget in case the state decided not to fund the program any longer. The town increased the state trooper line in the budget by nearly $17,000 to $140,000.

“We were conservative in our approach,” Bielik said. “By the time the state budget process was finished, our budget was already in place. So we are expecting to run a surplus in that line.”

During the 2016-17 fiscal year, the state’s budget will remove all assistance for the state trooper program and place the cost fully on the towns. This has officials in Prospect and Beacon Falls looking into the possibility of establishing their own police department.

Chatfield said the town has been “discussing options” and declined to elaborate further at this time.

Bielik said officials in Beacon Falls have been looking into moving towards a completely town-run police force.

“I’ve got my police lieutenant [Eddie Rodriguez] looking into what the actual cost will be to do that,” Bielik said.

Bielik said the town would have to review the current infrastructure in the police force, where it would need to fill in gaps in service and its current procedures.

“The way the budgeting deal was explained was we are responsible for 85 percent of the cost this year and 100 percent next year. That gives us a partial relief, but only for 12 months. It will give us the opportunity to see if it is cost effective,” Bielik said.

Bielik said that he doesn’t currently have any figures for establishing a town-run police department. He added he is open to entertaining the idea, even if it comes in higher than the resident state trooper program cost.

“Even when we process bids for jobs that come into town, necessarily going with lowest bidder isn’t the best solution. I always look for best value,” Bielik said. “This would provide greater security going forward. Running our own police force would be better value, even if it is more expensive.”

However, since Beacon Falls doesn’t have any numbers for associated costs yet, a town-run police force remains theoretical.

“I’d need to see the costs to play with numbers and see if they made sense,” Bielik said.