On Thursday, First Selectman Peggy Katkocin met with Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton to discuss replacing the resident state trooper who now supervises the ever-diminishing New Fairfield force with Danbury police.
But that idea foundered Friday when Boughton told Katkocin the plan would cost New Fairfield taxpayers even more than they are now paying.
"After the meeting, we ran some preliminary numbers," Boughton said. "Right now, the town pays the state 70 percent of the cost of the troopers. If they contracted with us, they would have to pay 100 percent. We just can't compete with the state."
Katkocin declined comment late Friday.
"We've not had an official word yet so I don't want to comment," Katkocin said. "Danbury has not shown me any numbers. I hope to hear from the (police) chief next week."
Ever since New Fairfield residents soundly defeated a proposal to replace the resident state trooper system with an independent police department nearly two years ago, more than half its 18 full-time officers have taken jobs in other towns. More are expected to leave before the fiscal year ends, Katkocin said.
"We now have eight officers, and we expect to lose two or three more by June," she said. "I need to be able to make sure that if someone dials 911, somebody answers the call."
For the short term, Katkocin will ask the state police to provide the town with two more troopers for the remainder of the fiscal year, in addition to the state police sergeant and two troopers already on duty.
But that plan will send the police department budget into the red, Board of Finance Chairman John Hodge said.
"We're under the gun right now. Adding two more troopers will cost $40,000 to $50,000 this year, and we could end up $35,000 to $50,000 over budget," Hodge said.
He said the town should explore the costs of relying completely on state police to provide coverage for its approximately 15,000 residents.
Under the resident trooper program, which operates in 59 Connecticut communities, the trooper serves as the top law enforcement officer in town, supervising the local officers.
New Fairfield has had a resident trooper since 1957, but the department has been hemorrhaging trained officers since residents soundly defeated a plan to establish an independent police department in June 2002.
After the vote, many of them realized they had no chance for promotion if they remained, according to several current and former New Fairfield officers. At least a half-dozen are now members of the Danbury department, and a similar number have taken positions in other nearby communities.
"These guys had no choice but to look elsewhere," said David Raines, a former New Fairfield officer who now is a member of the Ridgefield Police Department.
"It used to be a great place to work. There was no attrition, nobody was leaving. We never got sued and were never in the paper for anything bad," Raines said.
But things went downhill after the vote, he said.
"The officers that left felt that advancement-wise, they were at a dead end," Danbury Chief Robert Paquette said. "Young, aggressive officers want to move to a department where they can move up."
Under the proposed cooperative agreement with Danbury, city officers would have answered calls in New Fairfield, and New Fairfield officers would have been available to do the same in areas of Danbury near the town lines.
Both Boughton and Katkocin called the idea "a way of thinking outside the box" and of maintaining municipal services in anticipation of yet another wave of reduced state aid to towns and cities.
But ultimately, the plan failed to make "dollars and cents" for residents of either community, Boughton said.
The collapse of the proposed cooperative agreement was a bitter disappointment for the remaining members of the New Fairfield department. The police union had endorsed the plan and wrote a letter to Boughton supporting it.
"It's too bad," said Officer Tim Mortara, the union president. "We believed it was a good idea and a step toward cooperation between the two towns."
Mortara was cautious about the concept of an all-state trooper police force.
"We don't know how that would work," he said. "We're a union with a contract. We're a recognized bargaining unit. Under state statute they cannot replace us."
Mortara declined to comment on any other alternatives to the present police set-up in town.
Bob Burke, a member of the New Fairfield Taxpayers Association, endorsed the idea of an all-state trooper police force. He estimated that the switch would save residents an estimated $500,000 per year.
"It's too small a town and there's not enough action for young officers to stay here. The obvious thing is to go all state trooper," Burke said.
Reporter Brian Saxton contributed to this story.
Contact John Pirro
or at (203) 731-3342.
New Fairfield police
n 1957 - A resident state trooper becomes town's primary law enforcer.
n 1968 - Frank Sacco becomes the town's first full-time police officer.
n 1989 - The Police Station on Ball Pond Road is dedicated. The town has a resident trooper, 15 police officers and a secretary for the department.
n March 10, 2001 - Residents defeat a proposal to break with the resident state trooper program.
n June 6, 2002 - Another attempt to form an independent police department is defeated by residents.