The state's Department of Public Safety has 118 officers assigned as resident state troopers in 57 of Connecticut's 169 cities and towns, most of which do not have their own police departments. The state government pays 30 percent of the cost.
Rell's budget proposes eliminating that subsidy as part of a plan to close budget deficits estimated near $1 billion this fiscal year and about $8 billion over the next two fiscal years.
Her budget would cut the subsidy from 30 percent to 15 percent next year, then eliminate it entirely the following year.
The New Fairfield Board of Selectmen plans to stay the course and continue with its hybrid police force of five officers and a supervising resident state trooper sergeant, even if that means the town's wallet becomes a little lighter.
"We have what we need (in terms of staffing). We have no intention of cutting back on our police force. It just makes things difficult for us," New Fairfield First Selectman John Hodge said Monday.
He said the town has put the worst-case scenario figures into its budget to ensure it is able to maintain its law enforcement.
"Look, it hurts. We would like to still keep the reimbursement we have now," he said.
He said federal stimulus money could be used to offset some of the subsidy cuts the governor has planned, specifically money for law enforcement.
"I will be lobbying our state senators and representatives to use that money to underwrite the state trooper (costs) at the local levels," Hodge said.
The resident state trooper arrangement was started in 1947 to help a few isolated rural towns have better police coverage rather than the periodic patrols they received from the nearest barracks.
At the time, the state paid half the cost. Its share has decreased in the past several decades to 30 percent as dozens of towns have joined the program.
Rell's budget office estimates that requiring towns to pay the full cost of their resident state trooper would save as much as $8 million in the next two years.
Critics have complained for years that cities and mid-size suburbs with their own police departments are subsidizing a service that exclusively benefits small towns.
Leaders of those small towns counter that much of the tax revenue from their communities gets pumped into Connecticut's big cities. They say rural towns get little state help and cutting back further would be unreasonable.
"Small towns are losing more than the bigger cities (percentage wise) under the governor's proposal, and clearly it would be the smaller towns that have resident state troopers," Hodge said.
Some places, like Sherman, have one trooper providing law enforcement for the entire town, with the understanding that the trooper can call on others if more are needed.
"We are totally dependent on our resident state trooper. A town like (Sherman) could never support a police department," O'Connor said.
She said the idea of towns without police teaming up with towns with large police forces would not be effective.
"We need somebody whose knows the community and our specific problems. This is not going to happen with another town's police force, (which) is why the resident state trooper program has been so beneficial in small towns like ours."
So how will towns afford their resident troopers?
"We've committed to a zero tax increase in this budget," O'Connor said. "I will sacrifice other aspects of my budget to maintain that."
Material from the Associated Press was used in this story.
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