NEW WINDSOR — For nearly three years, Trooper Phil Henry has split his 40-hour work week evenly between here and nearby Union Bridge.
Sharing a state trooper has been beneficial for the neighboring towns, officials inboth agreed.
Mayors Perry L. Jones Jr. of Union Bridge and James C. Carlisle of New Windsor said they would willingly continue their participation in the resident trooper program. However, a $17,000 increase in the cost is a real stumbling block for the county's two smallest towns.
Beginning July 1, the towns each have to pay $8,500 more for the program, which now costs them nearly $50,000 total.
"We just can't afford that," said Jones. "The $50,000 we split now is about all we cando."
This year, the state, amid a budget crisis, has no money available for police protection to the counties or towns. Carlisle and Jones met recently with County Commissioner President Donald I. Dell and asked for help.
"We want to work with the towns and help as much as possible," said Dell.
One option would be to change officers.Henry, with 26 years' experience, is nearly at the top of the state police salary scale. Transferring a junior trooper into his position could save about $12,000, lowering the towns' increase to about $2,500 each.
"We could go along with that," said Jones.
1st Lt. Kenneth L. Tregoning, commander of the Westminster barracks, said a junior trooper with less experience would be less expensive. He said he had no problem switching personnel, but the decision rests with the commissioners.
If the new officer's contract includes some work for the county, the commissioner said, the county might be able to pick upsome of the cost. The officer would patrol for the county on his wayto and from the towns and while commuting the five miles between them, he said.
"That could help and shouldn't affect police efforts in the towns," said Dell, adding no decision has been reached on what percentage the county would pay.
"This is just a proposal but we hope to decide soon so the towns can get on with their budget processes."
Jones and Carlisle have also discussed starting a joint policedepartment, they said. Jones said they may be able to hire a retiredtrooper for the position.
"A lot of good men have retired in the past year from the Westminster and Frederick barracks," said Jones. "We could probably hire someone in our price range."
The towns would also have to purchase a squad car and provide the officer with uniforms and equipment. Jones said the towns could do that with the $50,000 they spend jointly now.
Carlisle also said he sees merit in a joint department.
Henry said he would probably be reassigned to theWestminster barracks if he were replaced.
"This is the towns' decision," he said. "They hired me and I try not to interfere in their policies."
Both towns are bracing for new developments this year. That growth will translate to more tax revenue, said Jones, and increasing need for police protection.
"Once we are growing, we could hire another officer together and still split the cost," said Jones. "Then, we could have day and evening coverage."
Both mayors said they would prefer to stay in the resident trooper program, however.
"As long as we get a dollar figure we can work with," said Jones.