CHAIRMEN: Representative Rowe
SENATORS: Cassano, Coleman, Guglielmo, Kissel
REPRESENTATIVES: Becker, Mushinsky, Noujaim,
SENATOR KISSEL: -- hour with members from the -- the public.
And I see Terry Jones is the first person to come up and speak. Welcome.
TERRY JONES: (Inaudible.)
SENATOR KISSEL: No. No. No. It's lukewarm at best.
Very friendly committee. We look forward to your input. If you could just make it very clear which particular item you're speaking to, that will be terrific, and welcome.
TERRY JONES: (Inaudible.)
I'm a -- a farmer from Shelton and it's a seventh-generation farm. I'm really feeling my age this morning because I was involved with Charlie Strauss in 1974 with the blue-ribbon commission to protect Connecticut's farmland -- and my other hat which does relate as a member of the State Board of Education.
At our farm carved in rock is, be good to the land and the land will be good to you. It's the motto of our family, and I think it's a credo that the State of Connecticut should live by, and I think with this program, is doing that. You've got to remember farmland is the tool. It's what we use to -- to produce food.
And with my education hat on, the State Board of Education is very concerned about nutrition and healthy food for our kids and farm experiences. And I think this program is a -- is a integral part of providing those opportunities.
It's also an integral part of a healthy ecosystem an environment for Connecticut. Our fields, forests and water bodies provide incredible technical services of clean air and pure water and they are incentive for people to visit our state as tourists, which is a major industry. The economic benefits are incredible. Connecticut agriculture and our products are the original made in Connecticut.
And I'd also add I had a great conversation on the -- on the way up, and I hadn't really been thinking about this, but with some of the shellfish people, and although we're talking here about plan agriculture, we have a great resource in Long Island Sound. And there's some interest, I think you'll be hearing about this next session, about adopting of plans so young people can get into shellfishing as well. This is another -- we're -- our Working Lands Alliance has a very simple credo. It's just work with fierce cooperation, and -- and we admire the results when we do that.
So the challenge as a farmer is the cost of land, and in our area $300,000 an acre for a building lot. And unlike many other businesses, we use a lot of land. And how does a farmer who's threatened with inheritance taxes and so on based on those high values, how can we survive?
And for many years in Connecticut we've had what I would call "an impermanence syndrome," that the -- the people on the land using the land feel that inevitably it's going to be paved over, so why invest in improvements in the farm.
But this program, started in 1978, has done an enormous amount -- it's been a great antidote to that impermanent syndrome and it's provided a willingness for farmers to stay with their land and to improve it, which is what we've done.
And through that we are generating opportunities for tourism, food production, kids' education, and we contribute $86,000 a year to the state coffers just in sales taxes generated from our winery and the Christmas tree sales.
Lastly, I would say we need to recognize farmland is a unique investment. I use the example in Shelton where we've had a robust program for the last 10, 12 years in investing in conservation easements, sharing with the -- the Connecticut Department of Agriculture's program. It's led to robust economic growth in addition to the farms that have been preserved and the added value products that they do. Their presence is a great attraction for the CEOs that Mayor Lauretti waltzes around town to come in.
And we've grown our tax base from $980 million to well over $5 billion and it's part -- part because we've invested, through cost sharing with the State in this program and -- and at the local level and the federal level in preserving these lands that make an attractive community for business as well as the business of farming. And so that's a great guide.
And this program started in 1978. It's probably that little catalyst, that -- that sugar in the -- when water freezes, that things gel around. So it's -- and I would say that it's probably, in my experience, the best-run program of all the States, in Connecticut. It's run, I would say, with fair -- it's probably one of the best nonpartisan bipartisan programs. The last Governor Rell, Governor Malloy and this -- your Legislature the last two years have been incredibly supportive.
And the consequence is the Department of Agriculture has a smooth-running machine. They run it like a business and the farm community can count on it; the pipeline flowing smoothly so there's credibility. And applications come in on a regular basis. And we can't afford to let any air get in the pipe and break the flow.
This -- this concept of steady funding, good management and confidence in the program is something that the Legislature and the administration can be very proud of. And I just urge the General Assembly to keep -- keep the program flowing at the very highly-managed pace that it presently is. And I will close with that.
You notice I have My Farmer's Cow hat on, even though I'm not a dairy farmer.
SENATOR KISSEL: Well, we're all in this together. Right?
TERRY JONES: We're in this together.
SENATOR KISSEL: Well, I really appreciate you taking the time, Mr. Jones, to come up here and for your leadership over the years regarding these issues, because I know that you've been out there fighting for these causes for decades -- not to make you feel any older than you said that you felt when you came to testify.
This -- this actual study is part of an overall push that I have made regarding agricultural issues, as I'm sure you're aware. And I think it's great. I know there's some folks probably from the Department of Agriculture -- if they're not here in the room, they're listening.
And it's great to hear, as someone in public service and working for the State of Connecticut, that you're working with a program that people think is very well run. And that's great news to me, too.
We may look at the fact that we're somewhere in the, you know, 20th percentile from where our goal should be, but had we not started on this path we -- we would have zero percentile. And so I think that you're right. It's a nonpartisan issue. It's a bipartisan issue. We all want that beautiful, pastoral, bucolic Connecticut because that's part of the charm of where we are.
And we -- I will just say this. I had to go to court yesterday morning first thing. And the court that I -- and I live in Enfield. And I had to be in court at 9:30 in Litchfield. And there's no easy way from there to where I live, but it took me all through some beautiful, beautiful towns. And it's amazing the amount of viable wonderful and beautiful farmland that we have in this state and it's right around the corner.
And so I ended up going through Thomaston and then coming back through Goshen and it was -- it's just a beautiful journey and it's just -- I don't want to lose that. And -- but we also need to make sure that these enterprises can be passed down generationally, and that's an area that we'll have to continue to examine. So thank you for --
TERRY JONES: It's really an investment. This -- this program is truly an investment. It's just -- it's going to give back for generations forever.
SENATOR KISSEL: I agree wholeheartedly. And once we lose it it's gone forever.
Anybody -- yes, Ms. Urban -- Representative Urban.
REP. URBAN: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Thank you, Senator.
Terry, thank you for being here. And, yes, of course, because we were both raised on raw milk, it makes us totally ahead of this curve.
TERRY JONES: Absolutely.
REP. URBAN: When we look at the chart that the Program Review and Investigation did, you can see that our support of this program has been not exactly even, so it's been an uneven support.
And then when you talk about the impermanence syndrome, I think that that is worrisome, because as you both pointed out at the end of, you know, your little twelfth year, this is an investment. And I think that it has to become paramount in our minds to not send out that impermanence signal.
Because we know even when you look at our general economy, when do things get dicey; when there's uncertainty. And when there's uncertainty in the economy you see what happens there. If we're sending the signal that there's uncertainty in our support of this program then we have what -- what you characterize as the impermanence syndrome.
And I'd like you to just comment on that, but I'm going to say one other thing which always comes to mind when I look at farmers, farmland and farm production.
On a sort of smaller level, there's always a substitute for apple juice, orange juice or you can have a substitute of chicken for beef. But when you look at the larger picture there is no substitute for food, and that's where the investment comes in and the importance of our farmers is so huge.
So if you -- if you would just comment on that impermanence syndrome and how you feel about it and whether we do need to send stronger signals.
TERRY JONES: Absolutely. And I think you and I both remember back a few decades ago there was a point in time when it was all the rage that, yeah, we -- we were going to pop a pill three times a day and not have to eat. And that's -- we know the fallacy of that. And we know that a lot of our social ills are -- are promulgated by improper nutrition and that the socialization of the family coming together and eating well.
The -- the impermanence syndrome was actually -- back in 1974, was a major discussion point and concern when the blue ribbon commission under Governor Meskill was -- was underway with Charlie Strauss.
And it's -- and it actually happened in Shelton. Many of my neighbors who are farmers had kind of given up and just assumed they were going to sell out to developers. And they stopped making investments in the quality of the soil and -- and working with the -- back then it was the soil conservation service to do -- invest in keeping their fields viable for -- for generations.
And then it all changed about 15 years ago when the -- first when the Connecticut Department of Agriculture stepped in and purchased development rights to part of our farm, and then we in turn just -- we did a like-kind exchange and bought farmland around us. And our neighbors saw that, hey, this could go on. And they began to participate.
And now we've got young people coming back from the corporate world, the -- back to the home farm, the -- the Beardsleys and their orchards and the Monahans with Stone Gardens. And we have a robust community of agriculture down there in, as I say, the impoverished eastern fringe of Fairfield County. And they are investing.
And this, this buys us, the Connecticut Legislature, under -- with -- working with the Department of Ag and Governor Malloy, that the farmland reclamation program, there's people working on that. We are reclaiming more land for vineyards and willing to invest a lot of our money because we know that we're not the end of the road, that we'll go on and that our neighbors will go on.
And it's -- it's -- I'm a big-picture person, and it all feeds together, whether it's the tourism that comes in, the healthier environment and the opportunity for kids. Every -- the Governor and I have spoken about this many times.
We need to educate our kids where food comes from. And you can only do so much from a book. There's many farms in Connecticut and many on protected land where we bring school children to the farm, and that's education that lasts.
So this -- the confidence in this program, I think, is doing a lot to relieve the impermanence syndrome. And in the last few years it has definitely, both under this General Assembly and under Governor Rell and Governor Malloy, the -- the productivity of it has risen to a very robust and consistent level. And I -- I cannot praise this body enough for doing that. It means so much. That's an antidote for the impermanence syndrome, that and raw milk.
REP. URBAN: I agree with you there.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
And thank you, Terry, for coming up and testifying.
TERRY JONES: It's our pleasure.
SENATOR KISSEL: Thank you very much, Representative Urban.
Any other questions from members of the committee?
Thank you, sir, for taking the time and coming to testify.
TERRY JONES: Thank you.
We passed out the -- the program for our Nutmegger Cheese and Wine Festival that happened last Sunday. We had about 500 people celebrating.
There were 24 farms there with their products, value-added products; dairy, cheese and so on. Commissioner Reviczky and the Governor were there sampling and elevating what Connecticut can do, made in Connecticut, Connecticut agriculture.
SENATOR KISSEL: Thank you.
I'm of the firm belief that we can do anything if we put our minds to it.
Our next speaker --
TERRY JONES: (Inaudible.)
SENATOR KISSEL: Jim -- Jim Smith.
Welcome, Mr. Smith.
JIM SMITH: Thank you.
(Inaudible) -- safety -- thank you -- the rising cost of transportation safety to our food is demanding it.
I have held a seat on the steering committee that Terry had spoken about, the Working Lands Alliance, and we have spent the last 15 years advocating for farmland preservation. I can report to you that over the years we've put a lot of time and effort into educating people here at the capitol and the general public.
We work at this tirelessly because we believe in the future of agriculture in Connecticut. I know because of our efforts there's a very positive perception in agriculture in the state.
One of the highlights was the lump sum bonding which has proven invaluable when we look back at the progress of the program. I would also like to point out that I appreciate the support that we have here at the capitol now. I would like to take -- I would like you to take into consideration that it was always not that way when you review the progress of the program.
I can remember the frustrations of not being on the bonding agenda, the delays in finalizing contracts. The program should be looked at as anything agriculture. You need to plant it, nourish it, weed it, in order to harvest its fruits. I believe that, as you look at the progress timeline, you will see when it has been cared for.
I've showed how the program has helped in the past and present generations, but most importantly, future generations will benefit the most by being able to farm the best soils in the country, Connecticut soil.
There's a call on agricultural to feed a growing population, however, there are some who question its ability to do so. We can but we need these programs to continue more -- to continue more aggressively with the continued support of the State.
There was a time when everybody remembered a connection to agriculture but, as we have a very small percentage of the population that is involved in agriculture, the connection is being lost. I feel we need to have a fully funded and staffed Department of Agriculture that needs to be continued -- that needs to continue to be one that understands agriculture and the effects of policy on agriculture and to move these programs towards their goal.
I continue to support the farmland preservation program and the State needs to support it too.
Thank you for your time.
SENATOR KISSEL: Well, Mr. Smith, thank you for taking time out of your very busy schedule. I know it's an awful lot of work, especially this time of year to have a working farm and all the things you're engaged with.
I think having a public hearing like this helps elevate the public's awareness of this very valuable program. And to the extent that we build that public support, then it allows the funding mechanism to remain more constant going forward.
So I think it's very important, not only for the entire state of Connecticut, but for your neck of the woods, as the map that was provided to us shows, that you have up in Litchfield County, you have the entire eastern part of the state of Connecticut, but one area that I represent, north-central Connecticut, has a particularly keen interest in this as well, so the ramifications are far-reaching.
And I think that when you touch upon the idea that it's really important to future generations, I really think that that's a critical acknowledgment because, to the extent we are -- we are the generation that are the trustees of what we have right now. And to the extent we lose any of it, you just can't get it back.
And so my goal is to -- to help build support for this program going forward so that we have more farmland sustained so that we can preserve the beauty that is the State of Connecticut.
Questions for Mr. Smith?
Seeing none, thank you, sir --
Oh, Senator Cassano.
SENATOR CASSANO: (Inaudible.) There we go.
End of the season, I've got a hunch that most people know nothing about preserving vegetables, keeping vegetables, storing vegetables. I see a lot of the farms, particularly as we get into October, I mean, they're giving away butternut squash for 5 cents a pound just to get rid of it because nobody -- nobody buys it. And it's so easy. I baked six this morning. You know, they'll be jarred tonight and set. We don't do things like that.
And I'm wondering if somehow -- and I know it's not your role -- but how do -- is it the Department of Agriculture? How do we get people to -- to start thinking about tomorrow and preserving and things like that? Because we waste tons and tons of product.
I've got a lot of the -- I have Glastonbury in my area. And, you know, it's -- it's amazing the number of apples and pears and peaches and berries that just don't get eaten because people, if they can eat them now, they just -- they let them go.
And I just wonder if it's something we ought to be trying to work with, the Ag or somebody. I don't know who the answer is, but I've got a hunch we would extend that dollar even more for the farmer if we were buying a lot of that crap that we're not going to be using at the end of the year.
JIM SMITH: I agree. I -- boy, I would charge Terry, sitting on the Board of Education, to develop a program that would teach those things.
SENATOR CASSANO: And it's fun to do. I mean, most people when they find out that it's not that difficult and it's easy to do --
JIM SMITH: Right. Exactly.
SENATOR CASSANO: So -- all right.
JIM SMITH: Yeah. You're absolutely right. They don't --
SENATOR CASSANO: Well, we need to look into it.
JIM SMITH: All right. Thank you.
SENATOR KISSEL: Thank you, Senator.
Welcome to Program Review and Investigation.
HENRY TALMAGE: Thank you.
So you can hear me, Senator Kissel, members of the committee, my name is Henry Talmage. I'm Executive Director of the Connecticut Farm Bureau. Prior to serving in this post, I was executive director of the Connecticut Farmland Trust. I currently cochair the Governor's council on agricultural development, on the Steering Committee of the Working Lands Alliance and the Farmland Preservation Advisory Board.
I've also done a lot of work prior to moving to Connecticut on farmland preservation in New York as well. So I bring to the table some of those -- some of that history.
As an organization the Connecticut Farm Bureau represents 5,000 farming families in the state. We represent all types of agriculture, small, large, food-producing, non food-producing. So we're here as kind of the umbrella organization that works with all types of agriculture, and recognize that agriculture is a diverse segment of our economy; 3 and half billion-dollar segment with over 20,000 jobs. And that, if anything, we are becoming more and more diverse as time goes on.
So recognizing that agriculture is a static -- is not a static model and, in fact, is always constantly changing, and addressing market changes is an important piece to understanding programs that are designed for agriculture.
Since the Farmland Preservation Program's inception in 1978, the State has permanently protected or is nearly in the process of closing on nearly 40,000 acres, and approaching 300 of Connecticut's best farms.
The tool used, as we've heard, is the permanent deed restriction which is a conservation easement that runs with the land in perpetuity. And farmers retain the rights, all except the development rights so that farmers can sell, transfer to next generations or other nonfarmers who are interested in getting into farming.
As a result, the voluntary program is a much more equitable way of protecting farmland than, for example, zoning restrictions on the use of land, because it helps to provide a way to protect farmers' equity as opposed to eliminating the nonfarm uses.
Connecticut farmers are often described as land rich and cash poor. In many cases the only retirement farmers have is in the value of their land. The Farmland Preservation Program has been and continues to be a very useful tool for estate planning, business transition, and succession planning, and it can provide the necessary funds to carry out such plans for farmers that don't exist otherwise.
In addition, because the development rights have been removed, as we've heard, the cost of the protected farmland is significantly lower than land with full development rights. And this has allowed for an important ongoing benefit that's allowed farmers to purchase more land and new farmers to enter into farming that wouldn't be able to with the prohibitive land costs. That's an ongoing issue that also runs with the land. So we hear about that is not a one-time benefit, but a long-term benefit.
The public has benefited from farmland preservation as well. Protected farmland provides critical -- a critical mass of land that makes up the rural character of the state. And as Terry Jones indicated, from a -- from a purpose of tourism, agriculture is the canvas on which our tourism industry is -- is painted.
It's a very important piece of our rural landscape for attracting visitors and residents, and it also plays a significant role in the rural economic development within our state, which is -- which is incredibly important because there are not as many economic development options for many of our rural communities.
There are significant environmental benefits to protecting farmland including water quality, critical habitat, biodiversity. And farmland uses very little in terms of public services as compared to its residential build-out development. Cows don't go to elementary school, thankfully. And so what happens is we end up with a stronger community where agriculture exists, all reasons why this is such an important piece of our -- of our rural fabric.
In addition, the increasing interest in local food and concerns about food security have only strengthened the support for farmland preservation, and the original goal to protect 135,000 acres seems to be as relevant as ever.
The Department of Agriculture has done a good job of administering the Farmland Preservation Program. The selection criteria, which is key, helps to ensure that the land that's protected is of the very highest quality, and therefore, has the highest likelihood of being farmed into the future.
And as a result of that process, the vast majority, 95 percent, of the land estimated that has been protected using this program is still in active agriculture today. That's an important barometer to make sure that we're using our public dollars in a way that's -- that's responsible and effective. And we do that and ensure that by using the criteria that selects for the best farmland.
In addition, the Department of Agriculture's farmland preservation staff are engaged with the agricultural community. They have earned the confidence and the respect of farmers, which is not always the easiest thing to do. And it has done so through straight dealings, great service and outreach.
The process for evaluating, planning, and the ultimate decision by farmers to protect their farmland can take many years for a family to arrive at that. The issue of permanence of the program is very important with that. And we've seen this in other states where they've had gaps in financing, where one year they'll have money, the next year they don't have money, the third year they're not sure. They may have a little.
What's happened in those states is those programs have lost their momentum. And farmers have said, you know, I'm just not going to go through this process if I don't know the program is going to be there when I need to pull the trigger. And I think that's something that we need to recognize.
And, frankly, in recent years I think we've done a great job through lump-sum bonding and through the Community Investment Act funds to provide a constant continuous flow, and you're seeing it in the numbers in what land is protected each year. So that's an important piece of this.
REP. ROWE: And if you could, technically, we're on three minutes.
HENRY TALMAGE: Oh, I'm sorry.
REP. ROWE: That's okay. If you have anything, though, important points you haven't driven home you'd like to, feel free.
HENRY TALMAGE: I would just be happy to answer any questions and leave it -- leave it there.
REP. ROWE: Thank you.
I found -- I came in the second half of your testimony, but it was very helpful, I think. It brought up some good points.
And maybe I'll let Senator Kissel, if you want to start the colloquy.
SENATOR KISSEL: Yeah. More of a statement.
I just want to thank you, Henry, for your leadership throughout the state of Connecticut. You're on a variety of boards and initiatives. I think it's great.
I think the more we talk about this issue the more it will resonate with the public. I think that they, as they drive through our more rural and suburban communities and they see the farms, they appreciate them, but it does take the public being supportive of our financial commitment to preserve these open spaces, preserve the farmland.
And I think that we can't stress enough that we have some of the best soils in -- in the world right here in the Connecticut River Valley and throughout Connecticut. And I think that's borne out through our storied past and our rich agricultural history.
So I just want to thank you for taking the time and underlining the point that this program has operated well in the last few years, and we need to maintain that momentum going forward.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
REP. ROWE: Thank you, Senator.
Is there anything further?
Okay. Thank you very much for your time and testimony.
KIP KOLESINSKAS: Good morning.
Nice job on the name there. Not -- not quite used to that.
REP. ROWE: Well -- well, every now and then. Thank you.
KIP KOLESINSKAS: Thank you very much, Chair Rowe, and members of the committee for this opportunity to testify about the Connecticut Farmland Preservation Program. My name is Kip Kolesinskas. I am a consulting conservation scientist for American Farmland Trust.
Prior to my working for American Farmland Trust, I served for many years as the USDA natural resources conservation service state soil scientist for Connecticut. One of my responsibilities was to administer the Federal Farm and Ranch Land Protection Program, which since 1996 provided over $20 million in matching funds to purchase agricultural conservation easements on farmland in partnership with the Connecticut Farmland Preservation Program.
This federal investment, which would not have been possible without the state program, has helped protect over 80 of the farms that have been protected and about 8,000 acres.
As the federal program manager in Connecticut, I work very closely with the state Farmland Preservation Program. I saw firsthand how the state program operated from the ranking criteria to reviews of easement language. I found the Connecticut program to have withstood the test of time and to have adapted and grown with a process of review and decision-making that met or exceeded the federal program requirements.
As a soil scientist, I also understand the importance of protecting the state's most productive soils. The better the soil the more adaptable it is to the future needs of agriculture and the more resilient to the impacts of climate change.
The federal program has very specific criteria for soil eligibility. And, again, the State's program consistently brought forward high-quality projects that met or exceeded the soil-based requirements.
Overall, during my tenure as a federal partner to one of the most respected state programs in the country, I felt that the dedicated staff were using a well-designed and implemented state program to work with Connecticut landowners and farmers to effectively and efficiently protect the best farmland for current and future generations.
My personal observations are in keeping with what American Farmland Trust has found through its surveys and evaluations of state programs around the country. Founded in 1980, AFT was an early advocate for the Connecticut Farmland Preservation Program, and we continue to work through -- with the department and through the Working Lands Alliance to ensure the program remains efficient, effective and adaptable to the changing needs of agriculture.
Towards this end, American Farmland Trust is a national organization that has been involved in two studies of the Connecticut program. The first, done in 1988, asked Connecticut and Massachusetts farmers who had participated in their state programs to provide feedback about the effect on their farms and communities. And the majority responded very positively about their experience with the program and the difference that it made to their farms and their communities.
The second evaluation was completed in 2006, which surveyed only Connecticut farmland owners who had protected their farm with the program, and found, I think, some really key changes to the farm: 43 percent that they had, after they had protected their farm, had invested in their farm and their operation; 25 percent, they had branched out into new crops and diversified; 73 percent, that they now plan to convey the farm to a family member. These findings are consistent with the national survey just completed of farmers and farmland owners who have protected their land.
Oh, excuse me.
With adequate funding, staffing, and support, we expect that the Connecticut program will continue to be one of the most successful in the country. The program continues to offer an effective and efficient way for Connecticut to not only benefit current residents, but provide investment that fulfills our responsibility for future generations.
Thank you for the opportunity to testify today.
And any questions?
REP. ROWE: Thank you. I think we do.
SENATOR KISSEL: Thank you.
I know that part of your expertise is a soil scientist. And -- and one of the things that's been explained to me is that we have some of the best soil in the country. But there seems to be a tension, at least anecdotally, I picked this up.
You have some folks that want to grow, for example, shrubs, and they do this root and ball thing where they wrap the ball in a canvas. And the concern is -- is that if you do that enough you're losing that top layer of soil in -- in, sort of, providing that product, as opposed to other forms of agriculture that might shepherd the soil and allow it to stay in place better.
And so, have you encountered that kind of tension in other parts of the country? And is there a way that we can allow folks that have that kind of shrubs or stuff that, you know, where it is root and ball, but it will not impact the critical soil that we want to protect as a state?
KIP KOLESINSKAS: Sure. I can -- I can make a couple comments about that. Again, I have worked for over 35 years as -- as a soil scientist. So that the purpose of the program and most of the farmland preservation programs around the country is -- is to protect the integrity of the soil for all kinds of agriculture. And that a -- the traditional way of doing a ball and burlap nursery stock basically takes some of the best part of the soil resource and ships it off the farm.
So there are opportunities and other kinds of methodology for growing nursery stock trees and nursery stock, and some of the growers are using those techniques. And I think that there's an opportunity to look at those techniques, what we would call "best management practices," and see what their impact is on the soil, minimize the impact, and see how that can be incorporated into farmland in -- in Connecticut.
And, again, there are operations, greenhouse nursery operations that are on protected land. And though, you know, the main thing is to make sure that the soil resource is not destroyed.
SENATOR KISSEL: Because the way I look at a nursery is a nursery may be on top of the land but it's not doing anything to the land. And if you've got nurseries eventually removed, the soil is still there. Whereas the ball and burlap -- I called it root and ball, but I'm not an expert -- the ball and burlap, I guess, under previous types of utilization did have this, sort of, negative impact on the soil.
What you're saying is that there might be some best practices going forward that that impact might be minimized or -- or even eliminated.
KIP KOLESINSKAS: Right. That there are -- right -- are -- are different techniques, like a pot in a pot culture, where you're putting a pot in the ground and growing the plant in the pot in the ground but not using the native soil, or of a plant in a bag with a growing medium are a couple of the techniques that have been -- been used very successfully.
SENATOR KISSEL: Thank you.
I look forward to learning more about that so that we can try to afford as many entrepreneurs and farmers and opportunities to use these lands as they can going forward without ever losing the precious soil that we have.
REP. ROWE: Thank you very much.
KIP KOLESINSKAS: Thank you.
REP. ROWE: Bob Kehmna.
You're here to talk about soil?
ROBERT KEHMNA: Yes, sir.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, members of the committee. My name is Bob Kehmna from the Insurance Association of Connecticut. I'm here today to speak about your ongoing study entitled "Assessment Methodology and Process to Funding Connecticut Insurance Department."
As we understand it, the fund is basically designed to look at ways of potentially expanding the assessment base for funding the department and the effects of those changes, and then the funding mechanisms for insurance departments to be used around the country.
Currently, as you've heard, the insurance department is funded by an assessment solely on domestic insurers. While it may sound like a good deal for domestic insurers to expand that base to include all insurers doing business in the state, in fact, it would do real harm to Connecticut insurers who compete for business across the country.
As you heard, a large part of this state's economy is employment based in insurance companies. Insurance is an export business. Over 90 percent of Connecticut insurance is sold in other states. Their ability to compete for business in those other states is paramount.
Expanding the assessment base will result in increased tax collections to other states, benefiting those other states, but not Connecticut, while at the same time harming it's domestic industry. That's because of something called a "retaliatory tax," and you've heard about that already. There are 49 states that have a retaliatory reciprocal tax on their books.
Retaliatory tax is a mechanism through which the insurance industry and insurance companies are protected from excess or discriminatory taxation. In its simplest form, the retaliatory tax calculation compares the tax burdens between two states, the state in which the insurer is doing business, or the host state, and the insurer's state of domicile, the home state.
If Connecticut expands the department's assessment to include nondomestic insurers, Connecticut insurers doing business across the country will suffer increased retaliatory tax liabilities in numerous states. The degree of impact will vary from insurer to insurer, based on the type of business they're in, and their presence in those various states.
This will put them at a competitive disadvantage and outweigh any local savings that expansion may create for that particular insurer. In fact, the General Assembly has consistently recognized over the years the reality of retaliatory tax consequences and the negative impact that would have on its most important local industry.
I cite in my written testimony two examples, although there are many others, where the Legislature has recognized that retaliatory consequence and written laws to avoid or at least minimize that effect.
Expanding the assessment base would not conform Connecticut law to a national model for funding insurance departments. States are all over the lot in how they -- they fund their insurance departments. They may use general fund monies. They may use fees and fines.
Parenthetically, Connecticut does not use fees and fines collected by its insurance department to fund that department. Those monies are sent to the general fund. That's to distinguish it from many other states. Those combinations mean there is no standard mechanism to fund their respective departments.
Reviewing information from the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, it appears that approximately 18 states use insurance assessments as a means of funding their respective insurance departments in whole or in part. Of those states, several have developed mechanisms to minimize the adverse effect or potential for adverse effect in retaliatory taxes. We only assess domestic insurers here in Connecticut; the same in New York.
Virginia gives a credit against premium tax liability for increased retaliatory taxes that insurers pay in their respective state. Now that credit isn't limited to the issue of funding the insurance department, but nonetheless, a credit that would apply in this instance.
Of the remaining states, most either do not have a major domestic insurance presence in the state, or have a lower premium tax. So the possibility of their domestic industry being retaliated against is correspondingly reduced.
We respectfully submit that the assessment base for funding the insurance department should not be expanded, but we would welcome the opportunity to work with you and your staff as this study continues forward.
REP. ROWE: Thank you, Bob.
I don't have your written testimony. Did you submit it? Maybe it just hasn't made it around here yet.
ROBERT KEHMNA: I submitted it at the (inaudible).
REP. ROWE: Okay. Great. Okay.
SENATOR KISSEL: Thank you very much.
Thanks for coming in, Bob.
You know, really -- I mean, I'm going to wait and hear from the people that are the other side of this argument. But coming into it, it strikes me that Connecticut and New York are on the ball. That this, we're the smart ones in -- in this universe because we are doing everything we can to essentially help our in-state companies, and that it would really be -- we would be the net losers, especially, Connecticut. Maybe not so much New York; it's a bigger state.
But you know, given our size and given the changes in the world, the system that we've set up gives us a tremendous advantage in the other states. And once we change that -- and it's my understanding from the research that this has been in existence since the 19th century -- so we were smart enough to do this over a hundred years ago, to set up this system.
And while I'm sympathetic to the businesses that just have their primary book of business here in Connecticut, there may be a way for us to get from here to there without jeopardizing our competitive advantage in the rest of the country.
And to that end, I know that the -- the researchers had indicated that there was a provision for a tax credit if you had less than $250 million worth of assets, but that few businesses were able to avail themselves of that.
Do you have any comments regarding that? Should it -- is 250 -- $250 million just too low? Is there any benefit to trying to help out some of these other businesses that may not be as benefited because they don't sell outside Connecticut, without upsetting the apple cart and putting us at a competitive disadvantage?
ROBERT KEHMNA: I don't know that I'm in a position right now, Senator, to comment specifically on that, but certainly willing to look at it.
SENATOR KISSEL: But point blank, you would say that Connecticut and New York have it right. The rest of the other states are sort of feeding off of each other, and that we are in a better position competitively because of the situation that we've had since the 19th century.
ROBERT KEHMNA: Since Connecticut is the home of large insurers that compete across the country, we are different than many other states in this union.
With all due respect to Wyoming, there's not a Traveler's in Wyoming. So the importance of recognizing the reality of business, the insurance business, the fact that it's an export business is paramount in this state.
As an example, several years ago, maybe a decade ago, during the end of the session the Legislature decided, with the spurring of the administration at the time, to fund childhood immunizations by an assessment against life and health insurers.
Now, I only represent life insurers. But we railed against that idea because there's no real relationship between life insurers and the products that they sell and childhood immunizations. And, thankfully, you folks passed a bill this past session to finally remove that requirement on life insurers.
But in the decade that it existed, we advocated, as IAC, that you not assess all life insurers doing business in this state; you only assess Connecticut domiciled life insurers.
Because when you get out the balance, and you look at what would it cost that state -- I'm sorry -- that insurer one way versus the other, all life insurers paying for this new assessment are only Connecticut insurers.
The Connecticut insurer made out better by, ironically, paying more in Connecticut because it avoided the problem of paying time after time in state after state the aggregate effect of those retaliatory taxes. And the impact it would have on a closed-margin business, of that company being able to compete for business in those other states was real and something we wanted to avoid as an association. So we were in the ironic situation of asking the Legislature to only assess domestic insurers.
REP. ROWE: Thank you very much. That's helpful.
Okay. Thank you.
KIP KOLESINSKAS: Thank you.
REP. ROWE: Mark Dumas.
MARK DUMAS: I think I'm the first speaker of the afternoon. So good afternoon.
REP. ROWE: Good afternoon.
MARK DUMAS: My name is Mark Dumas. I am counsel for the Connecticut State Police Union. We've -- we've also submitted some written testimony.
The Connecticut State Police Union represents approximately 1,000 troopers, sergeants and master sergeants. These are approximately a thousand experts in state police staffing. We'd like to offer our membership and the union as resources for this committee and its staff as it conducts this study. I can tell you this is a very complex agency.
I'll focus on a few points that were raised by the committee in the discussion, rather than our written testimony. But first and foremost, one thing to focus on is, although there are certainly economic issues at stake, first and foremost this is about public safety and trooper safety.
We need to remember Heather Messenger who tragically died in Chaplin, Connecticut, in 1998. And her death was the impetus for the 1248 mandate that was recently removed in the last legislative session. And it is in honor of her memory we need to keep that as -- as the forefront of what we're addressing, is that it is about the safety of the citizens of Connecticut, of the travelers in Connecticut, and of the men and women of the state police who help protect all of those people.
That's not as -- as simple as it sounds. One thing we were -- I heard discussed was response time. It's -- and Senator Cassano had discussed, it's comparing apples and oranges when you're comparing municipal departments to a resident trooper program, for instance, in the northeast portion of the state.
Well, it's -- it's apples and oranges between different areas of the state police. The state police is -- the patrol function of the state police is primarily made up of 11 troops. Those troops are very different. Each troop is unique.
You have, in -- in Bridgeport, you have Troop G. That Troop G is predominantly a highway troop. Almost all the municipalities that it patrols have their own municipal departments. The focus of that -- that particular troop is much different than other troops. They also have one of the busiest highway corridors in the country.
Take North Canaan up in Troop B as a different example. That is a rural troop and they have a lot different pressures there. And for a trooper, a trooper is concerned not just about their response time, but the response time for their backup.
You know, in -- in many years of the state, our patrol levels could certainly use more troopers. I think everybody could agree to that. And you need to look at that not as one big number. It's not "what is the number?" It is what the numbers are. So there -- there needs to be a number for Troop B. There needs to be number for Troop G. This is where people really see troopers on a daily basis. This is what we offer for them, too, is the uniform service.
The state police serves many functions like major crime or in the crime lab where there are important rules for the state police to play. But for the average citizen, they see a trooper on the highway in the uniforms. Those are the people we really need to focus on, and to make sure that we have an adequate staffing level.
It is also important to note that many of the patrol levels have not increased in 30 years. I'm not a math major. I wasn't one in college, but I'm pretty sure the population has gone up in the past 30 years. This is -- this is something that we really need to consider on the forefront.
A -- a second issue that was brought up by Representative Becker was that, you know, we're often looking at the expense of these troopers, but troopers are not revenue neutral. Troopers actually generate revenue.
I -- I can think of one example where a member of the union's board actually wrote a $60,000 ticket on a day that he was only working half a day. That was on one single ticket he, you know, he could pay for a rookie trooper. And that -- that is something where he -- that particular trooper worked in a specialized unit in the truck squad, as part of traffic services, something where people are trying to focus on the patrols. That is a very important function.
And traffic services, they serve a very important function in terms of supplementing traffic control when patrol can focus on their particular patrol areas. And in addition to providing an important service, they provide a revenue source. Because the department has been strained thin in -- in the past year, that unit, in particular, has been one unit where the agency has -- has looked to, not necessarily cut corners and numbers, but cut corners in what they're doing.
A lot of these -- a lot of the troopers in traffic services have been -- have been given assignments that aren't traffic control services. They haven't -- they haven't been dealing with writing tickets, making sure our roads are safe. Some of them have been escorting prisoners. Although that is an important function that the state police has to take into account, that's not -- that's not what we want that unit doing. That's what we have -- we have other structures within the state police to take care of that.
The fact is, because we are so thin right now, we need to be concerned about that and to make sure that units like traffic services units, units like major crimes, the -- the tactical or otherwise known as a SWAT team, that they are adequately staffed so that when we need them they're -- they're available.
I can think of one of our labor agents was the master sergeant at Troop W, the former Troop W now, when 9/11 struck. And that was a point where the -- the commissioner basically told him how many -- how many people do you need, and he sent twice that. You know, we need the flexibility to do that. This is not something where we're -- we need to be concerned about -- we do need to be concerned about minimum standards, but we need to be concerned about being able to adequately respond to situations like that.
And a second issue is, I know the agency has been taking a lot of steps to try and improve in this area. One area that was discussed was the -- the consolidation in Troops A, B and L. I think that's important that we look at that carefully. This is -- there's a reason why that consolidation hasn't occurred in years, even though that has been brought up -- that that particular issue has been brought up many times before.
And as -- as we experienced some -- some growth pains in dealing with that consolidation, we found out that we really do need adequate supervision of the dispatch function. It's -- the trooper's job is -- is really a unique job, and although dispatchers perform an important role, it -- it really takes a trooper to assess whether or not something is so critical that maybe he doesn't need -- a trooper doesn't need just backup, he needs more than just backup.
And that's what we're -- one thing that we're concerned about is -- is making sure that issues like that aren't -- aren't rushed too quickly, that they're given the adequate time to really make sure that if there's someplace where we can save, we want to save, but we don't want to save at the cost of the public safety and the trooper safety.
So if anyone has any questions I'd be happy to answer them.
REP. ROWE: Thank you. Excuse me.
Maybe a couple quick ones -- I think they're quick.
Do -- do the -- do the troopers have a -- have an opinion on -- on the scope of -- of their -- their job, the direction that -- that we want the state police to go in? I touched on it briefly in the morning hearing, but you know, their mission statement.
And I'm not sure that -- that we have a clear understanding of what -- what the mission statement is, recognizing that we were told this morning that we have some of the most -- the most comprehensive or -- or all-encompassing state trooper guidelines, maybe, or services that are provided among any state except perhaps Alaska.
It's an inelegant question, but do you have any thoughts on that?
MARK DUMAS: Well, first of all, I think that's a good thing. I -- I don't think we want to be known as -- as the bronze medal of state police agencies. I think we want to be the gold standard.
I think we have one of -- a great department. The -- the men and women of our department, both -- both sworn and unsworn, really are concerned about providing the best possible services in terms of public safety.
Unfortunately, this is a very complex area. If -- if this was simply a highway patrol, which we are not in Connecticut, then we could possibly simplify it, but we've performed a lot of functions with a lot of different missions.
The mission for a resident trooper in Mansfield who has to deal both with a -- a local municipality and one of the largest universities in New England is vastly different than the mission for a trooper who is in Troop G patrolling the 9 -- patrolling 95 South next to New York State.
So I think, if you talked to a thousand troopers, you might get a thousand different missions depending on what it is they do. That is why this is a difficult -- such a difficult analysis to -- to come to.
That probably doesn't answer your question, but I don't think it would really be possible to answer a question that is that complex, you know, in, you know, the brief amount of time I have.
REP. ROWE: I appreciate that.
And a different line with regard to the consolidation that we've had. What are the -- and, again, I don't think they'll will be a thousand different answers on this, but is there a consensus from the -- the boots on the ground, so to speak, as to if that has borne fruit? Or that has enhanced safety or has it enhanced, you know, the financial end of it? Are -- are we looking at real savings?
MARK DUMAS: Well, if it's terms of strictly economic savings, I -- I don't think that is certainly the case this time. One thing you're not going to often hear a union complaining about is too much overtime.
But because of the consolidation, it's created a lot of stress on the union members in sort of filling the amount of work. There's actually probably more work now than ever. The troop consolidation program or the dispatch consolidation program has made that worse.
I don't necessarily want to go into the details because I don't want to jeopardize the safety of our members in -- in how that functioning makes their jobs more difficult, but it -- the consolidation program is straining patrol rather than enhancing it.
And, you know, we'd be happy to speak with anyone -- anyone of you, sort of, off the record on that, because we don't necessarily want to go into specifics that would jeopardize either our members' safety or the public's safety.
But the simple fact is that the consolidation has made their job more difficult. There's no time when someone's job becomes more difficult that it enhances safety. And in this particular case, I -- from what I have seen, it is not creating any cost savings.
REP. ROWE: Thank you. I appreciate that and appreciate your -- your nuanced answer.
And that, you know, if we do need specifics, maybe we'll go off mic.
But Senator Cassano.
SENATOR CASSANO: (Inaudible) -- the truck stops. Is that a relationship?
MARK DUMAS: That -- that particular trooper was a member of the truck squad. So, you know, that is -- that is an area where I certainly think that, you know, the state police union believes that, you know, having an increased state police force will both create enhanced public safety, because we'll have safer trucks driving on the road, both because we'll stop the bad guys and we'll also make sure that people know that when they drive through Connecticut they better be driving safely and they better be complying with all the trucking regulations.
Of course, the revenue isn't necessarily a state trooper's primary goal. It's not even really a particular goal, other then that when they write somebody a $60,000 ticket they're pretty sure that the next time that guy drives through Connecticut he's going to be complying with every regulation.
It is a -- it is certainly a beneficial secondary effect of what -- what we do, which was -- is what our members do, is we -- we make the roads safe. And -- and one way is by making sure that people -- people know that this is not a state where if you drive through Connecticut with unsafe trucks. You know, it's the classic example of people -- people slow down when they see a cruiser.
SENATOR CASSANO: You mentioned the frozen patrol levels -- and I forgot the number off the top of my head -- but let's say we had a thousand troopers. Are we funding 1,000 positions if we have a thousand troopers or are we taking a percentage of that? Do you know?
MARK DUMAS: We are not funding, you know, one -- dollar for dollar all a thousand troopers. As -- as one example was pointed out there, there's the resident trooper program where the municipalities pay a portion of that trooper's salary and their benefits, not just their salary.
There's -- the agency has historically done a good job in seeking federal funding as well, you know. Because that often requires matching funds in -- in difficult economic times, there's often tough decisions that have to be made on whether or not we pursue those federal funds. But that is another area where many troopers are actually funded through federal funds.
So it is not, you know, the -- the salary and benefits for a thousand state troopers do not come directly out of, you know, the average taxpayer's tax bill.
SENATOR CASSANO: Right. Right. My -- my question -- and maybe I'll rephrase it -- if you had $100 million as the salary for 100 percent of your -- of your force, are you funding that at 100 percent or are you taking -- with Manchester we funded 90 percent capacity. I was mayor for 14 years, and we had three days where we're at full capacity in 14 years, three days. Do you have the same thing?
Are we funding full capacity, or is that money that's floating in the budget?
MARK DUMAS: I -- I think, if I -- if I understand your question, is -- is specifically whether or not, you know, we're at full capacity and whether -- whether we're funding it. I -- I certainly don't think that we're at full capacity in terms of the number of troopers we should have.
SENATOR CASSANO: No. No.
MARK DUMAS: If you look on a particular -- at a troop-by-troop level, each troop does set a minimum patrol level. On some days they have more troopers than are necessary to meet those minimum patrol levels and, in which case, those troopers could more easily take a day off if they need to. Troopers have, you know, have vacation and sick leave as well, which is something that needs to be taken into account.
It also means that, as an example, there are many troopers who are not part of the truck squad who are certified to stop trucks and -- and write tickets. There's a special certification process. It's -- it's some -- some very important training that they go through. In many troops, if they happen to have one more trooper then they need that day, that trooper is then allowed to go out and stop a few trucks.
Currently, though, in many of the troops, they're really straining at that. I don't, you know, when the troops -- when the patrol levels are -- when the number of troopers who are coming in on a given day are less than a minimum patrol level, if troopers are sick, troopers are on leave for one reason or another, military leave or family leave -- if for some reason, say, hypothetically, there were supposed to be 11 patrols and only ten troopers were there that day, they have to have another trooper come in.
Typically, a trooper would be called in on overtime for that, and they have a voluntary system for that. But because there's -- because the ranks are so thin right now, in many troops they're ordering troopers in. So a trooper has a day off, they probably want to be spending that with their family or doing something else, although, you know, they, you know, probably will normally take an overtime opportunity. They have so much. They're working so hard, you know, right now.
If -- if we need a trooper there, in that last slot, they will be ordered in. Someone will be ordered in. And that is happening more often than many of our troopers can remember in -- in recent memory. That's not -- that is not a common practice historically and is becoming one now.
SENATOR CASSANO: So real numbers are down?
MARK DUMAS: Our -- our numbers are absolutely down. I don't think there's any question of that.
SENATOR CASSANO: All right. The last question. You mentioned the dispatch. Consolidating dispatch, are we using civilian dispatchers or are we using sworn officers?
MARK DUMAS: Currently, in -- in most troops where there hasn't been the -- the consolidation, there's typically a civilian dispatcher and a -- a sworn -- and a sworn trooper who is the desk trooper who can provide some assistance in -- regarding dispatch issues.
That -- that officer is often necessary to make judgment calls because, quite frankly, what troopers do is very complex. Knowing whether or not something is a crime or not, not every dispatcher, regardless of how well you train them, is going to know whether or not that's something where a trooper really should go.
And the fact is having somebody who is a trooper and really knows the ropes, they can better -- better apply our resources by saying, no, we don't need to send a trooper to that or that we need to get a trooper to this call first because it's more important. That's something that, you know, troopers are trained to do.
And -- and that's -- and troopers know that -- they're -- they're concerned about their -- their brothers and sisters on the road and -- and they're concerned about the public safety, and -- and they focus on that. Certainly, some of our dispatchers do a great job. We're not saying they don't. But, you know, there's a -- there's a huge difference between a dispatcher and a trooper.
SENATOR CASSANO: End of story. I -- I fully agree with you, having a trooper in charge. Whether you've got four or five dispatchers, somebody has got to be in charge, and -- and I think that makes a lot of sense.
MARK DUMAS: And the -- the problem -- the problem that can occur is, you know, for example in -- in A, B and L, the consolidated dispatch center, if you have -- if you have one trooper trying to overhear one dispatcher, that's pretty easy to do. Having one trooper overhear four dispatchers, that's not as easy. You know, quite frankly, there are very few of us who could do that.
You know, because of that, you know, that was the initial plan. Because of that -- because that just wasn't working, they had to bring in a sergeant specifically for that purpose to supervise the dispatch center. That -- that did improve some of the problems, but I certainly -- if you bear in mind, if you have an area where, you know, there's some troops where that might be appropriate where there isn't the volume, but when you have troops with large volume, which Troop A -- which is one of those -- those three troops has fairly high volume, it becomes very difficult to keep track of that.
SENATOR CASSANO: So one size doesn't fit all?
MARK DUMAS: Certainly. I -- I think it's something that, although there's certainly -- certainly cost benefits that we could -- could see there in terms of both expenses and enhancing patrol, you know, we haven't seen that in A, B, L. And we think we have to take it very carefully in other troops, that some troops it's just not appropriate for.
SENATOR CASSANO: Okay. Thanks very much. Appreciate it.
REP. ROWE: Thank you, Senator.
Okay. Representative Mushinsky followed by Senator Guglielmo.
REP. MUSHINSKY: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Can you talk to me about the attrition rate? What's the most common reason for the 20 percent attrition rate at the Academy?
MARK DUMAS: You know, I'm personally not a trooper. I never was one, so I didn't go through that. But I -- I've heard stories from lots of troopers about their experience in -- in the Academy. And the Academy is difficult, and it's -- it's supposed to be.
We don't want every single person who -- who thinks it would be cool to have a badge and a gun to become a state trooper. Part of that process is that they weed out the people who -- who really aren't cut out to be state troopers. So that -- that is certainly part of it.
I -- I do honestly think that another part of it is that being a state trooper might be less attractive now than it was ten years ago. Troopers can -- can seek out many municipal positions where they can get the job faster, because their classes are more frequent. And they can get a job that, you know, quite frankly, has superior benefits.
There are great things about being a state trooper. I hear it every day from -- from the men and women in our union. They love being state troopers because they love being state troopers, not because they -- they're looking out for, you know, the bottom line. But, you know, I think that -- that certainly impacts, you know, if someone goes in the Academy, and they -- they see the -- the municipal troopers have, you know -- the municipal officers kind of have a much easier training process, for some people, that might be a direction to look to.
REP. MUSHINSKY: Okay. So to sum up, you're -- you're not sure, but you suspect that some -- we're -- we're having some losses to municipal?
MARK DUMAS: I -- I think we're definitely having losses to municipal departments.
REP. MUSHINSKY: Okay.
MARK DUMAS: We're losing, you know -- if we want to have the best officers be state troopers, I think we're losing that to some of our local departments. And we certainly want great officers in our local departments as well, and -- and we work closely, you know -- the men and women of our union work closely with them on a daily basis. But, you know, as a State, we want -- we probably want our state troopers to be the best of the best.
REP. MUSHINSKY: Yeah. And we have to factor in how many we're going to loose when we're trying to calculate the number we need.
MARK DUMAS: You know, it's --
REP. MUSHINSKY: We have to build that in when we were doing our calculations.
MARK DUMAS: -- it's -- you know, the -- the police -- the police academy is -- is not summer camp, let's -- let's say that, as -- as sort of a starting point.
REP. MUSHINSKY: Okay. Thank you.
REP. ROWE: Probably aren't a lot of former Speakers of the House that could make it through a police academy.
MARK DUMAS: I -- I certainly could not. So --
REP. ROWE: Okay.
A VOICE: (Inaudible.)
REP. ROWE: In your day.
SENATOR GUGLIELMO: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I just -- a couple of things I wanted to amplify a little bit on the event in Chaplin, because I was in office when that happened, and I represent Chaplin. And it was 1994, I believe.
And you know, that was really not the fault of the trooper, but there was something like a 22 or 24-minute response time. And the woman was on the phone and locked herself in the bathroom, and her husband was the -- the person that was causing the problem. And that -- the 911 call was chilling. And I think that's why, you know, that came about with the staffing. And certainly we would not ever want a repeat of that.
I mean, you know, out in where we are the coverage -- I won't go into the number, but it's very limited, and there's a lot of area to cover. And so that accounts for some of the response time.
The other -- the other thing, I know -- I was talking with a trooper just over the weekend, and they had lost two or three troopers to municipal departments, to -- to answer what Representative Mushinsky asked. And that was mainly because of better pay in some of the larger municipal departments.
But I do have a question. On the configuration of the dispatch centers, I've heard that that has resulted in more dropped calls than under the old system. Could you kind of comment on that?
MARK DUMAS: It -- it's very difficult to say. I've seen some of the numbers and, you know, I think some of the numbers that the -- the department has produced, the math is a little fuzzy.
I certainly can say, anecdotally, troopers are -- are contacting us on a regular basis about problems with calls being dropped or -- or seeking assistance and not getting -- not getting the response that they would want and the response that they would be accustomed to prior to the consolidation. So it's -- it's difficult to say.
I -- I honestly -- the numbers seem -- seem to suggest that there's been an increase in dropped calls. I haven't seen the numbers recently, so that may have changed in the past month or two.
SENATOR GUGLIELMO: If we could have those on the committee, I think we'd be interested in seeing those. I know I would. If you have up-to-date numbers on the dropped calls, I would be interested.
MARK DUMAS: You'd have to get -- the up-to-date -- the -- the current numbers you'd have to get from the agency.
SENATOR GUGLIELMO: Okay.
MARK DUMAS: The important thing is that the numbers can be very confusing.
SENATOR GUGLIELMO: Yeah.
MARK DUMAS: As -- as Mark Twain once said, there's -- there's, you know, three types of lies: Lies, damn lies and statistics. So, you know, the numbers can be very confusing if you don't know what they mean.
So, I think, you know, both getting those numbers from the agency and having people who can help you understand them who -- who don't have a vested -- as vested of an interest in making --
SENATOR GUGLIELMO: Right.
MARK DUMAS: -- those numbers look correct, I think is helpful.
SENATOR GUGLIELMO: Yeah. Well, I'll -- I'll follow-up on that. But also, I know some of the calls -- or I heard that some of the calls from trooper friends of mine are 911 calls also, not just nonemergency calls that have been dropped.
MARK DUMAS: That -- that has certainly been true. Statistically that happens even under the best of circumstances.
SENATOR GUGLIELMO: Uh-huh.
MARK DUMAS: As an example, if there's a major accident on the highway, everybody who drives by calls on their cell phone.
SENATOR GUGLIELMO: Correct.
MARK DUMAS: The phone systems can only handle -- handle so much volume at once. And there -- incidents like that you're certainly likely to have an increased number of dropped calls. And -- and that would happen under almost any circumstances.
Part of the problem here is that if you have -- if you have an incident in now a much larger area, you're increasing the likelihood that one of those events will occur, so that the -- you could potentially overwhelm a dispatch center covering three troop areas with one of those accidents instead of just overwhelming, you know, one dispatch center. We don't want any of them to be overwhelmed.
And I certainly think, you know, enhancing, you know, the dispatch function is just as important in many ways as the number of troopers, but it -- it happens. There are dropped calls, you know, both, you know, even when the -- the department has done everything it possibly can, there will be dropped calls.
And I think, as the system has been going so far, that, you know, there certainly have been some hiccups. Hopefully -- hopefully, it can be worked out. You know, this is certainly not something where, you know, the union simply doesn't want this to succeed. We do want it to succeed. We just think that it was a poorly thought out plan.
SENATOR GUGLIELMO: Well, I'm just going to give you my last kind of comment and then if you wanted to comment on it, that would be great.
We met with a dispatcher, some of them -- well, I did -- before some -- before the consolidation. And one of the concerns they raised, and kind of piqued my interest, too, is that some of these dispatchers had been on -- in the same troop for 20 years, 25 years, so they knew the streets. They knew the problem -- people, actually, better than the troopers in some cases because the troopers would be rookies coming on. And they could say, well, you know, on this particular street, at this location where you're heading, this guy has caused problems before, so be alert.
And now, when you're having a consolidated center, you're going to have troopers that are not as familiar with the area. You might have somebody who normally would have covered Bridgeport now covering Tolland or Windham County. Now, have you heard any problems in that regard?
MARK DUMAS: That -- that issue certainly has -- has arisen. You know, obviously, a -- a dispatcher who's never dealt with a geographic area --
SENATOR GUGLIELMO: Yeah.
MARK DUMAS: -- there is a learning curve. And you know, frequently, dispatchers do live -- live relatively close to their troop area, which, you know, if you live in a community you're more likely to know the community.
SENATOR GUGLIELMO: Right.
MARK DUMAS: But, you know, there have been some issues with dispatchers who simply aren't familiar with particular areas. You know, that's going to happen if you have dispatchers covering large geographic areas. They -- they simply can't know a larger area as well as they can know a smaller area.
SENATOR GUGLIELMO: Now, this is my last. Are they giving the dispatchers consistently the same area? I mean, in other words, you'd come in and they say, okay, you know, maybe you're from Bridgeport, but you're going to consistently handle Tolland County or Windham County or Litchfield County so that they get some of that familiarity? Or is -- do you know if that's happening or not?
MARK DUMAS: I -- I can't say exactly everything they've been doing with the dispatchers.
SENATOR GUGLIELMO: Yeah.
MARK DUMAS: I know that is something they have certainly tried to experiment with.
SENATOR GUGLIELMO: Okay.
MARK DUMAS: That that might be some area where -- where the program could be improved.
SENATOR GUGLIELMO: Okay. Well, thank you very much.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
REP. ROWE: Thank you, Senator.
And thank you, Mark, for your time and expertise.
MARK DUMAS: Thank you.
REP. ROWE: And we're sort of going to be transitioning back and forth between the -- the public and the agencies.
And just for the -- for everyone's edification, the plan will be -- next will be -- and I think you're going to go together, Peter Zelas and Deb Korda -- followed by Representative Joe Serra and his Mayor, Dave Drew. And then it will be Bob Heffernan and then the -- we'll have the agricultural commissioner and Gary Vallo. So that's what's ahead.
So Deb and Peter, good afternoon.
DEBORAH KORDA: Good afternoon. Thank you, Representative Rowe, members of the committee. The insurance department appreciates the opportunity to present information about the assessment methodology that you're looking at today and this fall. And we'd like to discuss some of the concerns we have with changing that methodology.
I am Deborah Korda. I'm the Legislative Program Manager for the Connecticut Insurance Department. And with me today is Peter Zelas who has recently served as the department's fiscal officer. He has taken a new position with a new -- another agency, so I very much appreciate getting in to -- to speak with you and we appreciate Peter's time today.
We're also here with Jon Arsenault who's the chief counsel for the department. And I'd like to apologize that Commissioner Leonardi is unable to attend this afternoon.
Let me start by providing a little bit of background, some of which you've heard already. Since 1980 domestic insurance companies have been subject to a general assessment to cover the expenditures of the insurance department. Those assessments were initially deposited into the general fund until 1991 when legislation established the insurance fund and made us an off-budget agency.
In fiscal year 2011 and '12, the total insurance fund assessment was 26.6 million and was paid by approximately a hundred domestic insurance companies. Just about every state has a law, which you've heard about earlier, retaliatory in nature that attempts to equalize the total tax burden that's imposed on foreign insurance companies, nondomestic companies of the retaliating states.
If a state taxes or imposes fees upon out-of-state insurance companies in excess of what the retaliating states have set up for their domestic companies, they will impose a tax or fee to the same degree to equalize the tax burden imposed on their own companies.
The assessment practices and methodologies for funding the administration and operating expenses of insurance departments vary considerably by states. You heard a little bit about that earlier this morning. All but 12 U.S. jurisdictions fund the operations of their state insurance departments entirely with fees, assessments and other means as opposed to utilizing the State's general funds.
However, only 24 jurisdictions, including Connecticut, rely 100 percent upon fees and assessments as a funding source for the operations of state insurance departments.
I think everybody here recognizes that Connecticut's insurance industry is very strong and very competitive under the current assessment methodology, and we urge caution in making changes that, while they may appear well-intentioned and be well-intentioned, they may negatively impact the entire domestic insurance industry.
You know that there have been initiatives introduced which would change this mechanism. Currently, of course, we only assess domestic insurers and previous initiatives considered changing that assessment methodology to include both domestic and foreign insurers. Those are those companies domiciled out of the state but who are licensed to write business in the state, and that represents about a thousand companies.
The intent behind previous proposals would be to benefit small, single-state companies operating in Connecticut only. However, overall, it would be very business unfriendly to our insurance industry, as a whole, and could create an incentive for companies to look to other states of domicile.
We urge caution in changing the current methodology for the following reasons. Any change will negatively impact our domestic industry which will experience higher costs due to retaliatory tax implications.
Essentially, I think it's easy to sum up the retaliatory tax issue this way. Domestic carriers that conduct business on a national basis, which as we know is the norm in our state, will pay more in the aggregate in other states than they'll benefit here from the reduction of the assessment.
Any changes could also negatively impact out-of-state insurance companies that are licensed to do business in the state by subjecting them to assessments to fund our department. Currently, they don't have any assessments at all.
And while it's been recognized that there are states that do assess foreign insurers as well as domestic, most of those states do not have large domestic insurance industries which make it feasible in those states to assess all carriers without materially disadvantaging their own domestics doing business in other states.
That summarizes my comments this -- this afternoon, and we'd be happy to answer any questions that you might have.
REP. ROWE: Thank you, Deb. And I think you have, sort of, helped crystallized for me the retaliatory -- I'm not ready to say I'm an expert on it yet -- but it's been obviously a very important issue that we deal with properly.
But do we have further questions from the committee?
REP. MUSHINSKY: Then what, if anything, could we do for the thousand smaller companies?
DEBORAH KORDA: I think that you have to balance what we want to do for our domestic industry, which is the domestic industry here that brings in, I think, according to PRI staff, is about 60 plus thousand jobs, billions of dollar -- billions of dollars in revenues and taxes.
I don't think that we're seeing a terribly negative impact, given that we have such a robust market, and we have close to a thousand out-of-state companies who choose to do business here. So I think the current practice is working well.
REP. ROWE: Is that a pregnant pause or -- well, it is a pregnant pause.
REP. MUSHINSKY: No, I -- I don't think the -- the thousand small companies agree that it's working well, but -- but that's okay.
DEBORAH KORDA: We'll be interested --
REP. MUSHINSKY: We'll -- there are a lot of smart people on -- on this staff and this committee and, hopefully, we'll come up with something.
DEBORAH KORDA: -- we'll be interested to see what the PRI staff recommends and --
REP. MUSHINSKY: Okay.
DEBORAH KORDA: -- some suggested alternatives.
REP. MUSHINSKY: Yeah. I -- I agree. And I think this is a -- is a real capable team here --
DEBORAH KORDA: Uh-huh.
REP. MUSHINSKY: -- so I think they will come up with something.
REP. ROWE: Yeah. We'll solve that problem. Right? Yeah. Sure.
Thank you very much, Deb. Thank you.
Representative Serra and Mayor Drew, good afternoon.
REP. SERRA: Good afternoon, Representative Rowe and members of the Program Review Committee. For the record, I represent Middletown. And I do have a major Connecticut domiciled insurance company in Middletown.
I appear before you this afternoon for the purpose of speaking in reference to the manner on your agenda entitled "Investigation into your Assessment Methodology and Process to Fund the Insurance Department."
Middlesex Mutual, owned by Middle Oak Insurance in Middletown, has operated in Middletown since 1836, and one of the oldest insurance companies here in the state of Connecticut. Unfortunately, the ability to come in to have its headquarters in Connecticut is uncertain. That's because the fees it is paying to the State Department of Insurance simply because it's headquartered here in Connecticut and not outside the state have become unbearable.
Frankly, we need to reward companies that make Connecticut their home. The current arrangement that assesses only the companies headquartered here in Connecticut rather than in all companies that are doing business in our state does the opposite. This has to be remedied and soon.
Middlesex Mutual has been a Connecticut-based company for 176 years. They're asking for a level playing field and with the companies with which they compete. It is a reasonable request, and I have the utmost confidence in this committee to give at least the Connecticut domiciled insurance companies a fair shake in looking at how the law is.
I say to a lot of constituents that we very -- we do very new -- very -- not that much new law here in Connecticut. We modify existing regulations and statutes, which is what we mostly do here in the Legislature.
So without further ado, I'd like to turn it over to our Mayor, Dan Drew, for some further comments.
MAYOR DANIEL T. DREW: Thank you, Representative Serra.
Good afternoon, Mr. Chairman, members of the committee. My name is Daniel Drew. I'm the Mayor of the City of Middletown. And it's my pleasure to speak before you today in reference also, as Representative Serra did, into the investigation into the assessment methodology and process to fund the insurance department.
As Representative Serra indicated, this is a matter of great interest to the City of Middletown, as Middle Oak is one of our most important corporate citizens, and plays a significant role in our downtown in terms of our grand list and in terms of significant and robust employment for many Middletown residents.
They've been in Middletown since 1836 and operated originally as Middlesex Mutual Insurance Company, and really has a significant impact, not just in the city of Middletown, but across the state of Connecticut.
Middle Oak actually works really on a regular basis to give back to Middletown and the state of Connecticut. And I can give you a lot of examples. But there's one in particular that I'd like to highlight as -- as an example of, you know, this company's efficacy as a corporate citizen.
And they had a -- an employee, a significantly important employee that was deployed to Afghanistan for over a year, and was gone during the October snowstorm. Middle Oak went out of its way to make sure that his wife and child were taken care of. The staff made sure they had all the resources they need when their home was out of power last October. They -- they really took on the responsibilities for his wife and daughter so that he did not have to worry about it while he was overseas defending his country.
And that's the kind of company this is. That's the kind of company we want in the city of Middletown, and I believe that's the kind of company that we want in the State of Connecticut.
They were actually recognized with an Above and Beyond Award from the Department of Defense, and we've honored them locally as well, because they really did more than anyone could reasonably expect from any corporate citizen. For that, we are forever grateful.
I've personally spoken a number of times with Middle Oak CEO, Gary Vallo, about the burden that this -- that this assessment methodology presents. It's nearly doubled in the last four years and it now exceeds three quarters of a million dollars per year.
I understand that this is not an uncomplicated issue, but I am also keenly aware of a few simple facts. Only a handful of the companies that are regulated by the Department of Insurance pay the full freight to fund the agency and most pay nothing.
Returning to the numbers that were spoken about a moment ago, just to reiterate them and put them in perspective, there are 109 Connecticut-based insurers that pay this -- this fee. There are 1309 out-of-state insurers that are operating in Connecticut, which means that of the 1418 insurance companies that are licensed to do business in the State of Connecticut only 7.6 percent of them are paying to fund the operation of the insurance department, and those are Connecticut-based companies, many of which are small to middle sized, like Middle Oak is.
And so, in my opinion, that -- that levies a significant burden on their operational ability and their ability to compete, both domestically and in other states with the other insurance companies that are not based here.
The second is that the majority of states assess all the insurance companies that do business in their jurisdiction, not just those that are domiciled within their states. And under the current arrangement, insurance companies whose headquarters are based in Connecticut are at a competitive disadvantage compared to those who are not, for the very simple reason of the way the numbers work out.
I believe that this current arrangement is unsustainable for Middle Oak. And I urge the committee and the Legislature to work with Mr. Vallo and similar companies to fashion a solution that will help Middle Oak operate, and help us all continue to achieve the success that we hope to as a state.
And I thank you very much for your time.
REP. SERRA: If I may, Mr. Chairman, I forgot to tell you that, as you well know, if you were here, Senator Doyle was here. He had previously commitment. He wholeheartedly agrees with our position. I'd just thought I'd state the record for that.
REP. ROWE: Thank you, Representative, and -- and Mayor Drew.
How many do -- how many employees, do you know roughly? Middlesex -- is it Middle Oak or Middlesex Mutual? I guess one is the --
MAYOR DANIEL T. DREW: Middlesex Mutual is part of Middle Oak. I believe it's over 200 people just in Middletown. Yeah.
REP. ROWE: And maybe we'll hear -- well, I'll reserve, maybe, additional questions for Gary Vallo who, I guess, will be able to talk figures a little more in depth, but -- okay.
I appreciate your -- your coming up here and sharing your thoughts and expertise with us. I'm not sure --
Yeah. Senator Guglielmo.
SENATOR GUGLIELMO: I am an insurance agent and retired now. My -- my daughter is running the business. But we had Middlesex Mutual for many, many years and I've been down to headquarters many times. And they are a wonderful corporate citizen and a good company to do business with. I can state that from personal experience over a lot of years, about 40 of them.
And so -- but -- but I would say, I was a little surprised that your fee was that high. Because I know, in the -- in the scheme of things, Middlesex is quite a small company compared to, you know, the others we have in Connecticut. And -- and you said three quarters of a million dollars in the fee?
MAYOR DANIEL T. DREW: Yes, Senator. It's three quarters of a million dollars. And, you know, I mean, you know, I'm not an insurance expert the way you are, but what I can tell you is how this impacts a local company in a very real way. You know, we see it on the ground every day. And this is a company that really keeps a lot of people employed. It injects a tremendous amount of economic vibrancy into our downtown.
Middletown is an important city position, and an extremely important geographical part of the State of Connecticut. And when we really dig down into, sort of, the microlevel effects of this policy and you -- I mean, we can talk about these things in the abstract, but you can see the negative impact on a company like Middle Oak, and I think, subsequently see the imperative to change this policy to ensure that -- that these smaller businesses can survive.
These are companies that are keeping local people employed, Connecticut people employed, and really taking that cycle of -- of profits that's coming in and reinvesting it back into the Connecticut economy. That's what we're going to need to grow, to be competitive in the 21st century, and that's what this company is doing every day.
SENATOR GUGLIELMO: Thank you.
Thank you, Mr. Mayor. And thank you.
MAYOR DANIEL T. DREW: Thank you, Senator.
REP. ROWE: Thank you, Mr. Mayor.
MAYOR DANIEL T. DREW: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
REP. ROWE: Next, we've got -- although we do want to follow up with Gary, we -- I do need to follow the list. So Bob Heffernan followed by Commissioner Reviczky and Gary Vallo.
BOB HEFFERNAN: Good afternoon.
Bob Heffernan, the executive director of the state's green industry. I represent one half of agriculture in the state of Connecticut, which is the production of flowers and plants and trees and shrubs and annuals, perennials, et cetera, et cetera, obviously here talking about your farmland preservation study.
I think the big question for the committee and the staff on this study is why has one half of agriculture been excluded from the program for the past 30-some-odd years.
Farmland preservation is a great program. It's -- it's the state's signature program. Of all the farming programs we have, it is probably number one or number two in terms of the money we have put into this program.
And Senator Kissel had hit the issue on the nose when he talked about balled and burlap growing, which has been used as the -- the main reason why the green industry has been excluded from this program for 30 years. But, in fact, there are, as -- as Senator Kissel pointed out, there are a lot of other growing practices out there today, such as containers that just sit on top of the soil, such as containers that go down in the soil but just push the soil aside. There are a lot of different ways to accomplish this without excluding the entire green industry, half of agriculture.
So we are asking the Department of Agriculture -- and, hopefully, your study will reflect this -- to work with us in creating best management practices. That if a grower wanted to go in on land that's been preserved, he would have to do this, this and this so that it would be an acceptable use of the land, because we do have some growers that have tried to even lease preserved farmland and has been turned down for even leasing preserved land, let alone preserving land that's been used for the greenhouse and nursery.
But, basically, land is way too expensive in the State of Connecticut for a nursery grower to walk away from it. So even if they are digging trees up, they have to constantly replenish the soil. And many of our nursery growers have programs that take in compost from those town leaves, and things like that, and manure, and grass clippings, and constantly regenerating the soil because soil on farming -- farmland is a constantly evolving substance. It's -- it's been that way ever since time began.
So we would hope that the Commissioner of Ag would be empowered to accept a best management plan and thereby draw the green industry into the program.
REP. URBAN: Thank you for your testimony. And we actually have the commissioner up next.
BOB HEFFERNAN: Yeah.
REP. URBAN: So that will be an appropriate time to ask him to sort of expand on that.
BOB HEFFERNAN: Sure.
REP. URBAN: Are there any questions from anybody on the committee?
BOB HEFFERNAN: Thank you.
REP. URBAN: Then, Mr. Heffernan, thank you so much for your testimony.
BOB HEFFERNAN: Sure.
REP. URBAN: And, as I said, the Commissioner of Agriculture is next to testify.
COMMISSIONER STEVEN K. REVICZKY: Good afternoon. I am Steve Reviczky. And I'm the Commissioner of Agriculture. And I come to this job as -- at the agency having a unique set of experiences. And one of the ones that I think is most important is that I was an employee of the Department of Agriculture for eight years in the Farmland Preservation Program. So this is a program that I ate, drank and slept for many, many years.
And it's something that, as a public servant, as a former first selectmen and as public servants in the Legislature, you know, you look for the opportunities where you can make meaningful change, that you can have a lasting contribution. And in this case, the Farmland Preservation Program, we have a program where we, together, the Legislature and the executive branch, have created a legacy.
We're at a point now where we're rapidly approaching our 300th farm being protected in the State of Connecticut and our 40,000th acre. And so that is an incredible milestone. The State of Connecticut over time, it's not always been an easy path for PDR. Funding has been hit or miss. And -- and depending on where the State is and where the -- the Governor is at any particular time, we may or may not have gotten funding on the state bond commission agenda.
But today, with the commitment that the Legislature has made with lump-sum funding for the Farmland Preservation Program and with the adoption of Public Act 228, The Community Investment Act, we have had a steady flow of funds to the Farmland Preservation Program for the purchase of development rights.
And that's critical for our farmers, our farm families here, who when they decide to apply for the Farmland Preservation Program, they're making a very personal decision. They're making a decision for their family, for the future of their -- of their farm businesses. And -- and often, those decisions are based on being able to either expand and acquire new land, or being able to pass the farm on to the next generation, and this influx of money gives them that opportunity. It also gives them peace of mind. It gives them -- it gives them the chance to protect their land in perpetuity.
And I'm actually wearing a button today that -- that speaks to that message, and -- and that's the challenge that we have, as a State and as an agency. Our obligation is to ensure that the lands that come into the Farmland Preservation Program, that our stewardship efforts are the highest.
And the taxpayers of the state are investing in the soils that are located on the farm. It is a soils-based program. We're trying to preserve, in perpetuity, the best of the best soils and were trying to keep those soils available for agricultural production forever.
And the previous speaker talked about ball-and-burlap nursery operations. And, quite frankly, the issue with that, if you've -- if you've ever been to a nursery -- or better yet, if you've ever -- if you -- well, if you've ever been to a nursery and seen how those balls are -- are made and the soil that's being removed, it is literally the mining of that soil.
And so that type of practice is something that -- that we don't look favorably on on protected lands. Again, the taxpayers have invested in that soil to be available for agricultural production forever.
We do, however, allow greenhouse and nursery operations on protected lands. And some of the practices that the previous speaker talked about, pot in pot, those are things that are occur on protected lands today. Those are things that we allow on protected lands. You're not -- you're planting those trees in a medium that you bring in. You're not taking the soil that the taxpayers have invested in.
So we're happy to work with all of the sectors of Connecticut agriculture. What we're not willing to do is to compromise the integrity of the program. And I don't have any prepared statements. This is something, again, that I -- that I live everyday. I'm happy to answer any questions.
We -- we have a very dedicated staff, small staff, dedicated staff at the Department of Agriculture. In fact, our director of farmland preservation is the longing -- longest serving director of farmland preservation of any state program in the nation. He is good at what he does. He knows every farm that's in the program up close and personal, and he's a great asset to us and the State.
And, again, I'm able to answer any questions that you might have about what we do and why we do it and how we do it.
REP. ROWE: Thank you, Commissioner. Thank you for being here. You know your -- your stuff, obviously.
And I will say that the agency is quite responsive when I've got issues with my constituency that overlap with the agriculture department.
But I know, also, that Senator Kissel has a more specific question.
SENATOR KISSEL: Well -- well, first off, Commissioner, I want to sing your praises. Commissioner Reviczky, you've done an awesome job with the Department of Agriculture. Its visibility has gone up. I believe that the -- you have a good rapport with the Governor, and certainly, you know how passionate I feel about moving on several different fronts regarding initiatives that we all share.
And thus, this study which I asked our leadership and they were so gracious as to help it to move forward, but there's other areas that I think that we could do some -- some great groundwork, no pun intended, going forward as well.
That being said, we seem to have this ball-and-burlap kind of thing going on in. And there was a nice gentleman from AFT, Kip Kolesinskas, who said that there's best practices out there. Is there any way to, sort of, bridge the divide such that Mr. Heffernan and his folks can maybe work with you folks, and sometime down the road, some sort of happy medium can be attained?
Because I, in speaking to you and your staff, I share with you the notion that we need to protect the soil and the chemical composition of the soil. And once that's compromised or degraded, you can't get that back.
And so I understand what you're -- what you're holding very securely, and I share with you -- and as someone who is working this program for eight years, you know, you've invested a good deal of your -- your life's work into making sure that this is one of the best programs in the country. So, on that issue, where do you see it going right now?
COMMISSIONER STEVEN K. REVICZKY: Well, I mean, there -- there are ways to work together and there are practices that would not mine the soil. The question is, is -- well, I'll back up a little bit.
We do have a Farmland Preservation Advisory Board that's a statutory organ of state government. We meet at least quarterly and this is the subject that the advisory board talks about often.
One of the things that in looking at these activities on protected lands, one of the things that the advisory board has recommended to me is, if we do move forward with any kind of a program that would allow these types of farming practices to occur, that perhaps there ought to be some kind of a bond that the individual who's engaging in this practice provides. So that if, in fact, they don't do what they claim they will do, that there's some way that the -- that the rights that the taxpayers have invested in are protected and that the land is able to be restored.
One -- one of the things that has been brought to my attention is that if, in fact, it is so easy to make soil amendments, to add the material back to the soil on a protected farm, how come that practice doesn't happen in other areas, in a brownfield, for instance, or on an old gravel bank?
If, in fact, it's that easy and it's that cost-effective to keep the soil, to maintain the agricultural utility of the land, how come it's not happening in other areas? Why does it have to occur on protected land? And that's a -- I haven't gotten a good answer to that.
SENATOR KISSEL: Well, I think you raise a good point. You know, just as anecdotal information, I mean, I represent seven towns in north-central Connecticut.
One of the -- Enfield had two -- has currently to high schools; Enrico Fermi High School and Enfield High School. The Town wants to consolidate. In looking at the Fermi grounds, they just were remediated because there was some contamination. Millions of dollars just to get, I don't know, 6 to 8 inches of topsoil in there.
One of the things that mitigated against trying to build the expanded facility at the Fermi property is you'd have to start digging that back up. And once you dig that stuff back up now you're back in the soup and it's, again, millions of dollars. And that we're just talking remediation. We're not even trying to get the right chemical composition for agricultural growth. So I think there's a lot to that.
Just for my own edification, so I understand the problems with -- with nurseries and the -- the ball and burlap, and we'll see where that all goes.
What is the concern regarding nurseries? And I know I used to think of nurseries as, you know, about the size of this room and, sort of, you know, the old-fashioned kind of nurseries. And it's my understanding that there are some really large nursing operations in Connecticut that cover acres. And what are some of the concerns that you just -- we don't want to concrete that land over, or is that how they operate? Or what are the concerns that you have regarding that?
COMMISSIONER STEVEN K. REVICZKY: Well, part of it relates to scale. And if you were to go to Google Earth and take a look at some of the larger nurseries, some of them up in your area, another one out in Lebanon, you -- you can see what -- how those nursery operations are conducted.
And they're great contributors to the state's economy, don't get me wrong. And they're a vital piece of the state's agricultural economy. The question is whether or not those activities should happen on protected lands.
And in the case of -- of one of the farms, you know, you want to be able to operate when it's dry, when it's wet. And in some of these instances, the -- those topsoils are actually removed. Some of them are wind erode around the perimeter of the property. Some of them are sold off.
And in the case of a lot of nursery operations up in the north-central part of Connecticut, the final product, the final crop on those nurseries ended up being either commercial development or housing. And, you know, once they exhausted the natural resource, then they sold off their real estate assets. And you know, that's not something that I want to see duplicated.
And, again, we're talking about protected lands. We're talking about lands where the taxpayers have invested significant dollars to protect the soil for growing mainly food, if you look at the statute. So we're focused on food production. We're trying to feed the citizens of the State of Connecticut.
So the focus is on food production, and the main target is to protect the soil in perpetuity.
SENATOR KISSEL: Well, I specifically -- toward one of our very large facilities up in Somers, I don't believe that was ever on protected land. I think that was just an operation that came about through the entrepreneurial spirit of those individuals themselves. But it just shows -- but it does show the scale to which these enterprises can -- can get to be.
And I understand your concern regarding the protected soils and the protected lands. That probably, there's the best-management practice for those open spaces for the utilization to develop agriculture and you're being a good shepherd. And that's what I'm hearing loud and clear. And so I'm hopeful that those things will work themselves out in an amicable fashion.
I noticed from the preliminary report that there's eleven closings pending for 1,374 acres, a total value of $7,680,110. Part of what the message I've heard loud and clear, from both the advocates and yourself, Commissioner, is that we need a, sort of, a steady stream in the conduit and some predictability. And at the same time, there's 13 offers being negotiated, so that's a significant number of parcels.
And I'm just wondering, is your relationship with the administration, with Governor Malloy, that every bond commission meeting there might be something in here to close a couple of these deals? Or every couple of months? Or is it done once a quarter? How is that -- is there any sort of predictability to it as far as these folks -- that these eleven -- where the details have all been worked out and now it just has to take place?
COMMISSIONER STEVEN K. REVICZKY: First, yes, I do have a great working relationship with our Governor. He's somebody who's absolutely committed to growing Connecticut farms and the future of Connecticut agriculture.
One of the -- one of the wonderful things that the Legislature did several years ago was to approve lump-sum funding for the Farmland Preservation program. So, actually, once you authorize the bonds in the -- in the -- in your bond act, the State Bond Commission allocates half the bonds in the spring meeting and the other half of the bond funds in the fall meeting.
So that's much different than the life we lived prior to that action by the General Assembly, because we used to have to go to the bond commission -- well, first you'd have to go to OPM and beg them to put a farm on the bond commission agenda. But farm by farm, not only did we have to go for each individual farmland protection project, but we also used to have to go to them to get money for appraisal dollars and for survey dollars. All of that has -- has gone away with the lump-sum funding.
In addition to that, the General Assembly was very wise, in 2005, in adopting the Community Investment Act. And that, too, gives us a regular source of income that comes off of the fees that individuals pay when they file documents on the local land records. That has provided additional staffing for the agency and it has covered our administrative cost, in addition to providing funds to do acquisitions, to do actual projects.
The other place where we're able to tap dollars is the Federal Farm and Ranch Land Protection Program. That program has existed since 1996 and has provided millions and millions -- tens of millions of dollars to the State of Connecticut that allows us to leverage our dollars with federal dollars, and it gives us an opportunity to work with both municipalities and land trusts to make our -- our funds go even farther. So we're -- we're really blessed in that respect. We do have resources to do the work we need to do.
In terms of acquiring the development rights to the farms, you know, the challenge is always do you have enough boots on the ground to get all the work done.
SENATOR KISSEL: So I'll just conclude. Specifically, you said the spring and the fall. So I'm wondering, we're in fall now; would it be in October or November? There will be -- half the funds would be released. And we have, for example, 11 sales pending.
And out of the funds you would anticipate in the fall, whenever that is -- and it would be great if you could tell us -- about how many of these 11 would be gone? And then, I'm guessing, the negotiations will be concluded on some of these other 13 so that they would go into fill the queue, and -- and, you know, that's how this steady stream goes forward.
So, again, those are --
COMMISSIONER STEVEN K. REVICZKY: Exactly.
SENATOR KISSEL: But I'm just wondering. When -- when do you -- when is the money released in the fall? Is it October, November?
COMMISSIONER STEVEN K. REVICZKY: I believe it's in October. But, quite frankly, I mean, we already have allocated funds that will allow us to do the work we need to do.
And as a lawyer, you can appreciate each one of these deals is negotiated individually. We negotiate the configuration. We do the appraisals. We review the appraisals. We present an offer to the owners. Then we have to go through a -- we have to go through a title search and we do a boundary survey. So each one of these things is queued up. And -- and I can't tell you specifically where each one of those projects are, but know that they're queued up and ready to go. And we pick the fruit when it's ripe. And we try to keep as many queued up as possible so that we can close on -- on farms as soon as they're ready to be closed on.
But it's -- it's not -- well, the staff knows. When we sat down to talk, the -- this committee did a review of the Farmland Preservation Program some years ago, and it -- and it was a very useful tool for us at the agency to be able to explain to people how the -- how a project actually gets from application to closing and all the different scenarios that can play out.
And -- and if you're doing a title search or a survey and you find a flaw in your title, well, now you have to -- now you have to cure the defect. And sometimes that's a boundary line agreement, and sometimes the -- it's hard to get to a resolution on some of these things.
And in one case, in particular, we had a farm where we found out that -- that the heirs to the farm, who were all over the world, had a say in the sale of the farm. So while the owner acquired the farm through probate, the sale of the farm subsequent to that still had to be approved by the other surviving family members. So we had to track those folks down and get them to sign off on the sale of development rights. So there are as many scenarios as you can think of.
SENATOR KISSEL: Having done innumerable title searches in north-central Connecticut and having studied other title searches from throughout the state, those descriptions can be, you know, to the old oak tree, and there's no more old oak tree. When there's heirs all over the place, or when there's problems with the title and action to apply a title, now, all of the sudden, you're in the superior court and that takes time.
And so I -- I do appreciate the nuances and the intricacies of each individual closing, especially when you're dealing with pretty vast tracks of land. That if it's been in the family history for generations, now your title search is bringing you into the 19th century and it can be fairly complicated.
So I appreciate the fact that there's a steady stream. I appreciate the fact that we're moving in a very positive direction. I think this all bodes well for us, and I look -- look forward to continuing a collaborative effort, as we move forward, in all of these areas for the betterment of the people of the state of Connecticut, and our farmers and growing food right here in our own borders.
REP. ROWE: Thank you, Senator.
And -- and, Commissioner, I think Representative Urban wants in on this discussion.
REP. URBAN: Thank you.
REP. ROWE: Thank you.
REP. URBAN: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Yes, I would.
Well, first of all, I'd just like to echo my colleagues, that what you're doing at the Department of Agriculture has been sterling, and we certainly appreciate it.
But I would like to revisit that preservation of the soil and quality of the soil and the fact that we are trying to preserve prime agricultural lands, and looking at that from an economic perspective, which, I think, is what you're suggesting to us.
I mean, on the short run you might make a decision that in the long run is going to end up being a decision that will ultimately cost the taxpayer by depleting that soil. And I mean, I'm happy because of the RBA draft framework. We're looking at Connecticut, a result statement of Connecticut has prime agricultural land that's protected from development and used to benefit the health, economic and social interests of the state's citizens.
And if we're taking that soil and depleting it, and as you have pointed out, once it's depleted, there isn't any mechanism that, you know, we feel confident in that we can then recreate what glaciers created eons ago.
So it seems to me that this is going to be a very critical point and a critical issue. So you know, I would just ask you to amplify that a little bit more. Basically, recognizing that our resources are constrained, and we -- we really want this program to be on a trajectory that's a steady positive curve, as we continue to fund it, so that we're sure that as we're funding it, we're not at the other end depleting it.
So maybe a few more words on that subject, Commissioner?
COMMISSIONER STEVEN K. REVICZKY: Sure. One of the things that we do when we acquire development rights to a farm is to require the individual who -- who owns the underlying fee to develop a resource management plan through the Natural Resources Conservation Service. So we're looking to have those farmers, those farmland owners, farm the land in a sustainable way.
We're also -- I'll dial it way back to the very beginning of the program. When the program was established in 1978, one of the first farms we predicted was then developed as a -- as a poultry farm. They put pen houses across the farm. So we were buying the farm to protect the soil. And then, in turn, the way the statutes were -- were written, the activity that was allowed to go on that farm was agricultural and agricultural activity, as defined in 1-1(Q). And they put poultry houses across some of the best land on that farm.
The Legislature had almost caused the demise of the program, but the Legislature put a hold on the forward motion of the program and that's when they changed the statutes that really speak specifically to maintaining the agricultural utility of the land. And that includes the construction of buildings and adding other impervious surfaces.
So our -- our look at the farm is holistic. And whether it's a farm load, or a farm pond, or a barn, or a manure lagoon, all of those -- all of those structures take away from the agricultural utility of the land, when we take that into consideration. And overall, you cannot, on most farms -- and some of these deeds have evolved over time and the deed language has changed a little bit over time, but, generally, you can't impact more than 5 percent of the cropland. So -- and that includes everything.
If you put in a well, it's not only the well, it's the area around the well. It's not just the driveway or the farm road. It's the area adjacent to the -- it's whatever you cannot farm anymore.
So we're really, really focused on stewardship. And we're trying to protect the soil, again that the taxpayers have invested in.
REP. URBAN: Well, that gives me a real sense of confidence, and I -- I appreciate your response. And I would assume that going forward there could be some creativity that might come out of this.
And just thinking about it, knowing that I compost with my horses and my donkey, and that a ball-and-burlap nursery might be able to coexist with a composting facility which would be creating the soil for the ball-and-burlap nursery, something along those lines.
But, anyway, I really do appreciate your response.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
REP. ROWE: Thank you, Representative.
And thank you, Commissioner, very much for your time and expertise.
COMMISSIONER STEVEN K. REVICZKY: Thank you very much. Glad to be here.
REP. ROWE: We have Gary Vallo, the long-awaited, followed by Sally Reis and Robert McCarthy.
Good afternoon now, Mr. Vallo.
GARY J. VALLO: Good afternoon. Representative Rowe and members of the Program Review and Investigations Committee, my name is Gary Vallo. I am Chief Executive Officer of Middlesex Mutual Insurance Company, headquartered in Middletown, Connecticut.
It is my pleasure to speak with you this afternoon in reference to the matter on your agenda today titled "An Investigation Into the Assessment Methodology and Process to Fund the Insurance Department."
As I have spoken about previously here, the Department of Insurance operating budget is not funded by the State's general fund. Instead, under statutory authority, its budget, which is slightly more than $24 million, is derived from an assessment that it applies to the Connecticut domiciled companies it regulates.
While the Department of Insurance regulates the entire industry of approximately 1200 companies writing policies in Connecticut, it is funded only by 109 Connecticut domiciled companies, less than 10 percent of the industry. These 109 domestic companies include companies with their home offices here in Connecticut, such as our company, Middlesex Mutual Assurance, which has been a Connecticut domiciled company since 1836.
Foreign insurers, those who are domiciled in other states, pay nothing. The disparity between the tax burden borne by foreign and domestic insurers creates an unequal playing field for Connecticut domiciled companies like Middlesex Mutual. It is for this reason that almost all other states assess both foreign and domestic companies in funding their departments of insurance.
You have heard that there is a potential retaliatory tax to be concerned about. We have heard this as well. But my message to you today is a simple one: That Connecticut's regulatory framework in this area needs to be more like that of the other states. It ought not let the nondomestics, who write most of the business in Connecticut, have a free ride while the companies that choose to make the state their home, like Middlesex Mutual Assurance, are placed at a competitive disadvantage by having to shoulder all of the burden.
To accomplish that goal, all that is required is to make a simple adjustment to the method of calculating the annual assessment from its current method of assessing only those companies domiciled in Connecticut to assessing all companies, foreign and domestic, which operate and write business in Connecticut. It would serve to level the playing field and broaden the tax base.
Let me say it again. Most other states in the country assess all companies that write policies in those states. This change would result in fairer assessments for Connecticut domiciled companies and serve to create a level playing field within which all companies would operate.
I really appreciate your consideration in this matter, and would be pleased to answer any questions that you may have.
REP. ROWE: Thank you, Mr. Vallo.
I first want to -- right -- actually adhered to the three minutes. So I'll give you extra consideration for that.
How long has Middlesex been subject to -- to paying in the -- the fee?
GARY J. VALLO: For as long as -- that it's been in place. We've been here since 1836, so we've been subject to premium taxes when they were introduced many decades ago. And this assessment, when it was introduced, I believe, it was commented on earlier in 1980. So we've paid that assessment all along.
REP. ROWE: So you've been part of the -- was it -- forgive me -- 10 percent of the -- of the Connecticut-based companies that pay?
GARY J. VALLO: The domestic companies, yes. As a domestic company, we paid the assessment since its inception, I believe, in 1980.
REP. ROWE: And do you see this -- this study, or this approaching of the issue as an opportunity to equalize things and maybe give the domestics, including yourself, a fairer shot and an opportunity to equalize things through that?
GARY J. VALLO: Yeah. I think it's very important to have an understanding of how this impacts the construct, the competitive construct, that exists in our State.
First of all, if I could comment on just a couple of the assertions that were made in earlier testimony. This issue, the retaliatory tax issue, which is of concern to my larger brethren, only applies in cases where the aggregate taxes in a foreign state are lower than Connecticut's tax.
In the analysis that was in the excellent analysis that was performed by Kathy Conlan, on page 10, it indicates that that is true in only ten other states. There are three in which the premium tax is equal. So the concern about retaliatory tax is not a 50-state issue but, rather, one in which it only comes into play in states where the aggregate tax rate is lower than is true in Connecticut.
REP. ROWE: Not many places can beat Connecticut in taxes, so -- if that's the case.
GARY J. VALLO: Correct. Also a statement was made that Connecticut is unusual in that it happens to be home to many domestic companies. While that's true, there are other states that have an equal assessment of both foreign and domestics that have a very large and significant domestic insurance base. That would include Massachusetts. That provides an equal assessment to all companies doing business in the state, whether foreign or domestic; home of companies like Liberty Mutual, Andover Insurance, as an example.
A third thing that I'd like to comment on is the fact that many of my brethren who oppose this change happen to be stock organizations which serve the interests of stockholders. We are a mutual company owned by policyholders, owned by the members, the folks that we insure.
As we and other companies apply for -- or perform rate analysis that underlies the rates that we charge in each state, just approved, authorized by the insurance departments, we include in those calculations the expenses that we have, one of which is the assessment that we pay here.
So if you follow the logic of this, okay, all else being equal, the high assessments that are paid to domestic -- that are paid by domestic insurance companies here are included in the rate structure, paid for by Connecticut policy owners.
Connecticut policy owners own Middlesex Mutual, okay. So to the extent that the artificial construct that we have, which distorts the playing field and creates an unfair burden to domestic insurance companies, means that Connecticut policy owners are paying rate levels that are too high, which accrue to the benefit of policy owners in other states that are, in effect, being subsidized by the current schema, we don't think that that's right. And our policy owners, which own our company, don't either.
REP. ROWE: I can understand that. Yeah. Okay. And I think we understand that approach.
All right. I'm not sure that I have anything further.
GARY J. VALLO: In terms of, you know, potential solutions, you know, I have ideas if you're interested in, you know, hearing those, if that would be of any benefit.
REP. ROWE: I think -- frankly, I think it would. And I would ask you, maybe if you could give your card or connect with Kathy when you leave.
GARY J. VALLO: Sure.
REP. ROWE: That might be beneficial for everyone. So I'd ask you to do that, and maybe sit down with her over the next couple weeks.
GARY J. VALLO: I certainly will.
REP. ROWE: And, of course, as soon as you say that Senator Kissel doesn't have something to ask, lo and behold, Senator.
SENATOR KISSEL: Well, you had your chance to shut me down, but you let it go too -- too long. God bless you.
One of the things that was brought out during the presentation, that there was some sort of a tax credit that would apply if you had capital of $250 million or reserves -- I'm not sure exactly but -- that only six companies were able to avail themselves of that.
Where do you fit in that? And is that something that needs to be increased? And how do you feel about that as a way to try to ameliorate your situation?
GARY J. VALLO: Yeah. As you point out, there is a provision in the current statute that affords a credit to companies with invested assets of less than $250 million. It's a credit of 80 -- up to 80 percent against premium taxes.
That is a credit that Middlesex Mutual was eligible for many moons ago when it was a smaller organization. We have outgrown that and are now in our adolescence, so are not eligible for the credit any longer.
I think that the structure of that current credit provides the potential solution to the conundrum that we have. As you pointed out earlier in one of the questions, you know, we don't want to do anything that would upset the competitive balance of large companies who are domiciled in the state of Connecticut as it relates to their ability to compete in other states.
At the same time, I'm sure that you recognize that this is an unfair and unjust burden on companies that are based in Connecticut, that do a lot of business in Connecticut. Writing business in Connecticut, from my point of view, is a good thing.
So in terms of the current credit, perhaps as a solution, you could take the current structure of the credit which relates to size of insurance company, invested assets, and convert that to a different mechanism for the trigger that would be based on the percentage of business, of total business, written by the company in Connecticut.
If we were to do that and set the trigger effectively at an appropriate level, my hypothesis is that would -- that would include the current six companies down from 18 who receive this credit today, so they won't lose anything.
In addition to that, it would be able to be afforded to two companies, like Middlesex Mutual, who write a disproportionate share of business in the state of Connecticut. It would not tax -- or would have no impact on foreign companies and, consequently, would ameliorate the concern of large insurance companies that it would trigger some sort of retaliatory tax impact.
So that may provide a solution here that would both address companies that are, sort of, the focus Connecticut competitors while preserving the competitive structure for larger companies who are not concerned about the credit.
SENATOR KISSEL: Thank you. I appreciate that.
And without revealing any trade secrets or anything else like that, you know, we're sort of talking about companies that do a significant amount of business outside of Connecticut. And your Middlesex Mutual apparently does a significant amount of business within Connecticut.
If you could just, sort of, give us a ballpark as to outside Connecticut, inside Connecticut for you guys, that would be great.
GARY J. VALLO: Sure. Sure. We operate under a group -- a group tradename that was identified earlier of Middle Oak in which there are two statutory entities, one Middlesex Mutual, one Holyoke Mutual. The entire enterprise is around $300 million in premium. We write about $125 million in Connecticut.
Middlesex Mutual, that writing company, that statutory entity, which is governed by statutes here in Connecticut, about 55 percent of its total premiums are written in Connecticut. We do write in 33 states and are trying to expand as rapidly out-of-state because there are two solutions to the problem that we have, you know -- rather three.
One, we can get the statute changed in some way that creates a more, you know, level playing field. That's certainly our interest.
Two other options that are not as pleasant for us is, one, to significantly reduce our -- our writings here. That would result in a lower assessment. That's not something that we'd like to do. We have deep roots in Connecticut. We'd like to preserve our focus on the state; have been providing service to agents and policy owners here for decades and generations.
The third option for us would be to re-domesticate to another state. We could change that assessment, that three quarters of a million dollars that we pay, overnight to a much lower level. In terms of order of magnitude, to give you a feel for this, the over $700,000 that we pay in the assessment is about equivalent to the total employee health medical benefit that we provide to Middle Oak employees. So it's a very big number, a significant number. And it's an annuity. It's one that we pay out as long as the eye can see here.
So we need to do something to change the status quo. The best thing would be to have a change in the statute -- excuse me. But if that is not possible at the end of the day, there are two other options. One is either to significantly reduce our writings here or else to, you know, re-domesticate to another state, neither of which we're interested in doing.
SENATOR KISSEL: And would there be other ripple effects if you re-domesticate to another state? Let's say, you chose Massachusetts because you have that are up there in Holyoke.
GARY J. VALLO: Yeah. Yes, there would be. And it's certainly not something that we're interested in doing, or our board is interested in supporting.
You know, we have been a long-standing business here with deep, deep roots in the community. We're known by our agents. We have been insuring homes, old homes, since they were new and have rebuilt them many times over during catastrophes over the -- over the centuries.
And the last thing that we want to do is take -- take rash steps to address this issue, which is why we've been dedicating a significant amount of time and effort to try to work with the -- with you good folks in trying to find a better way.
SENATOR KISSEL: Well, I appreciate that. I appreciate the testimony from folks on the other side of this issue. But certainly, I think that we need to be mindful of any company that's been with our State since 1836. So thank you.
Any other questions from members of the committee?
Seeing none, thank you, sir.
GARY J. VALLO: Appreciate it.
SENATOR KISSEL: Sally Rice?
SALLY REIS: It's Reis.
SENATOR KISSEL: Reis, sorry. Welcome.
SALLY REIS: Thank you. Good afternoon, cochairs, and members of the committee. I'm Sally Reis, the Vice Provost for Academic Affairs and Board of Trustee's Professor at the Neag School of Education at the University of Connecticut, here to discuss the public higher education involvement in state urban issues.
As Connecticut's -- and I want to thank you for the opportunity. As Connecticut's only public research university, UConn plays an active and unique role in strengthening our state's urban cities. While much work remains to be done, our leadership, our faculty, our staff and students remain committed to helping our urban centers.
The schools and colleges and programs at UConn exemplify a comprehensive commitment to serving Connecticut's urban centers. The commitment doesn't exist in isolation. And, in fact, it's actually quite pervasive. It's indicative of a culture of service that indicates our belief in what we need to do to help individuals who live in poverty and who are in need of our care and support.
The work of our faculty is motivated by their commitment and interests, by funding of state, federal, private foundation grants and donated service time. Each of Connecticut's schools and colleges, each of UConn's schools and colleges have multiple programs that address the needs of those who live in Connecticut's high-poverty urban areas. And the collective work of our faculty and staff is intertwined with the fabric of these communities.
So we have an extensive report that we've submitted, over 35 pages, of all of the various colleges' and schools' commitments. Due to limited time, I -- I can't talk about all of these today, but I can mention just a few programs.
The Neag School of Education, for example, requires all students to do urban practicum. And each year, between the years of 2006 and 2011, we've had 150 students in urban areas representing tens of thousands of hours of commitment.
The school and faculty and students of our dental program organized approximately 80,000 dental visits last year alone for Connecticut's high-poverty residents. The School of Arboriculture also has tremendous commitments. The school of engineering -- our law school has 14 different programs.
I'll just mention a few that I've been involved in. I've been a faculty member at UConn for over 20 years. And for those 20 years, I have committed service to Hartford, to Bridgeport, to Waterbury. We started a school in Hartford called the "Renzulli Academy," that was all dedicated -- School of ed professor's time; wrote the curriculum, started the program and recently received over $700,000, 250 that we mentioned in the testimony and 500,000 we just found out about to replicate the school in other Connecticut areas.
Our Center for Behavioral Education and Research, CBER, works in every urban center in Connecticut. Our medical school, our compact schools, our Husky Sports does fitness programs, nutrition programs.
We have reading programs and mathematic programs that serve academically talented and students who are well below the achievement level. And all of this is donated service time of UConn faculty and staff.
In conclusion, that is three minutes. I would like to thank the committee for an opportunity to talk to you and also to tell you that we'd be very happy to engage in a little bit more testimony about our million hours and counting of service to Connecticut's urban centers.
SENATOR KISSEL: Thank you very much.
That was Ms. Reis?
SALLY REIS: Yes.
SENATOR KISSEL: Well, thank you for taking care of my alma mater. And I mean, not just the University of Connecticut, but way back in 1984, I received my bachelor of science in education from UConn, but it was before it was called Neag. I think it was just the School of Education. So very fond memories of those days.
And you're doing tremendous work.
Questions from members of the committee?
Yes, Representative Mushinsky.
REP. MUSHINSKY: Do you work specific -- does any of your staff work specifically on adolescent pregnancy prevention or achievement gap, reduction in achievement gap? Those two specific problems?
SALLY REIS: Yeah. Let me speak to the -- and I'll let my colleague -- because I'm not -- I am aware of adolescent pregnancy programs that have been started by the -- at the health center and the school of social work, but I can speak in particular to the achievement gap.
We have probably 20 percent of the faculty of the Neag School has worked on some aspect of the achievement gap problem. And we actually have a new cluster hire that's just been -- been funded under the President Herbst additional faculty -- a new program that will put seven people, including people in public policy, economics, specifically on this program where we hope that, within just a year or two, we'll have additional solutions.
So there have been any number of articles published about that and any number of collaborations between urban cities and Connecticut and the Neag School on the achievement gap, and we've really only just begun.
Since the new commissioner is in, we've pledged ourselves additionally to come back to the problem again with this new cluster of hires. So I'd be happy to forward you some information from the various faculty members who have been working on this and some of the articles that have been published, some of the things we believe that can be done to reduce this.
REP. MUSHINSKY: Okay. Because, in general, as long as we don't make any progress on those two issues, and it's been slow going --
SALLY REIS: Uh-huh.
REP. MUSHINSKY: -- everything else in the state budget suffers, including UConn.
SALLY REIS: Right.
REP. MUSHINSKY: You know, you have -- you have the biggest personnel of any state agency, and it's a major part of the budget, obviously.
SALLY REIS: Uh-huh.
REP. MUSHINSKY: But we also have to devote resources to trying to reduce the achievement gap, which is the worst in the --
SALLY REIS: Country. Uh-huh.
REP. MUSHINSKY: -- country, and -- and trying to whack away at the adolescent pregnancy rate in the urban centers, which is dragging down those communities and making it less possible for them to meet the academic goals and career training goals that we'd like to see them meet. So whatever we're doing, it's not enough.
And, you know, I just would encourage you to either give us more information about how active you are and how much success you've seen on reducing adolescent pregnancy in those areas where your staff is working, or if it isn't, showing results, can you think of a way to -- or could you assure us that you could increase your work on those two areas so that we can start to see those trends go down?
SALLY REIS: Yeah. Well, absolutely. On the -- on the achievement gap, as I mentioned, we have a new cluster hire, a new group of people that have just, again, in addition to the folks that have already been working on this, they're working on this now. I can send you the proposal. I think it's pretty compelling and would be happy to do that.
On the adolescent pregnancy rate, I believe there are programs associated with the school of social work and the -- the health center on both of those. But what we will do is get additional information, and I will propose to those -- the deans, that they consider additional investment.
REP. MUSHINSKY: Thank you.
And you did mention, I think, that you have a group or a unit that's working on behavioral.
SALLY REIS: Yes. Uh-huh.
REP. MUSHINSKY: Okay. Maybe that would be the appropriate place to ask the question of the additional techniques we could be using to reduce adolescent pregnancy rate in the achievement gap areas.
Because, you know, I have to be honest with you -- and I worked on the issue for seven or eight years. As long as kids are having kids at 14 and 15, you know, you can kiss the academic achievement goodbye. It's not going to happen. And -- and yet, we've had a real -- real trouble working with the cultural reasons for going ahead with early childbearing --
SALLY REIS: Uh-huh.
REP. MUSHINSKY: -- whereas you get the suburban communities, the kids seem to know that early childbearing is going to hold them back. Urban kids, we've never been able to get that message across, that it's going to hold you back. And the kids just dig themselves into a huge hole for the rest of their academic career and workforce career.
So we could sure use some help from the behavioral center to find a way around this and come up with a good cultural solution to reduce that rate and to instill long-term goals in -- in the kids in the urban centers so that they can achieve -- beyond parenting, they can also achieve careers, which is a goal for all the kids in the suburbs, and -- and should be also for all the kids in the urban areas.
SALLY REIS: Yeah. Absolutely agreed. The -- the person in charge of our CBER group, which is our Center for Behavior Education and Research, is Professor George Sugai, S-u-g-a-i. He's one of the -- actually, we recruited him from the University of Oregon. He's one of the top people in the country. He ran the President's task force last year on bullying behavior problems in the schools.
And -- and, you know, their work addresses all nature of behavior outcomes, and including ways to -- to more positively change behavior, to be higher achievers in school. And what I'll do is send you some information on that as well -- send some information forward for the review on that, and -- and ask Professor Sugai to indicate whether any -- any work is being done on teen pregnancy.
SENATOR KISSEL: Thank you, Representative Mushinsky. See, we would have lost all that had you not just jumped in and said, yes, I have questions.
Any other questions?
Seeing none, thank you so much.
SALLY REIS: Thank you very much.
SENATOR KISSEL: Robert McCarthy.
ROBERT McCARTHY: Good afternoon.
SENATOR KISSEL: Good afternoon. Welcome.
ROBERT McCARTHY: Thank you so much, Senator Kissel, Chair Rowe, members of the committee. My name is Robert McCarthy. I'm the Vice Provost for Public Engagement and Dean of the school of Pharmacy at UConn.
In the past decade UConn has greatly enhanced its outreach and public engagement infrastructure. A public engagement forum was created in 2003 with membership drawn from a dedicated pool of faculty, staff, administration and community partners.
Key offices represented on the forum are the Office of Community Outreach, coordinating our student experiences; the Office of Service Learning, which supports a pedagogy of the service-learning curricula; and the Office of Institutional Research, overseeing data systems and reporting. Many of the members of the forum have community engagement responsibilities within their own school or college or other unit.
Then, in 2010, the university created the Office of Public Engagement to provide focus and structure to our outreach efforts, and I was asked to head that office as its executive director. OPE, the Office of Public Engagement, it fosters engagement across the university community thereby extending the transformation impact of the university throughout the state. It also plays a critical -- critical role in assisting the university in achieving its outreach mission and implementing the engagement portions of our most recent academic plan.
The office has compiled a -- has compiled a listing of the program by topic and region that allows external organizations to locate the university resource you are interested in quickly and easily. For university faculty and professional staff, the office has compiled extensive background information on engaged scholarship, specifically what it is and how faculty can enhance their teaching and research through engaged activities, including experiential learning and community-based research.
It is our hope that OPE will link people and organizations with similar interests to help solve some of the most pressing concerns our society face -- faces.
Earlier this year -- I can't keep the same title -- earlier this year, in an attempt to further embed engagement, the provost appointed me also vice provost for engagement.
UConn's efforts in public engagement activities have received national attention. Last year, the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching recognized UConn as one of 115 institutions to earn the organization's prestigious community engagement classification, I believe the third institution in Connecticut to have that designation. Since the system was created in 2006, only 10 percent of the nation's colleges and universities have received that designation.
Also, in 2011, we were invited to join TRUCEN, which is The Research University Civic Engagement Network. And it's a prestigious network of about 35 universities that are committed to civic engagement and community involvement.
Let me just give you a couple of quick examples, and I'm happy to provide some more. Our College of Liberal Arts and Sciences provides a wide range of services including the Governor's Urban Youth Violence Program and a reading service learning program that has assisted 1200 students in Stamford and Norwalk who are at risk with -- for reading difficulties.
The UConn School of Medicine and our health center faculty, students and staff also contribute thousands of hours to urban areas, including free medical services to Hartford's most vulnerable citizens at the South Park Inn and Medical Clinic, the South Marshall Street Homeless Shelter and the YMCA Adolescent Girls Medical Center.
Dr. Carol Polifroni, from our school of nursing, works with Hartford youth funded by a HRSA grant in a program called "RUN with LC." This innovative program is currently being implemented with 200 underrepresented, high-poverty middle school students to increase diversity in the nursing workforce and encourage Hartford children to enter nursing as a career.
Many of our undergraduate and graduate students work as volunteers and conduct their internships in urban settings. Last year, for example, 51 students in our school of social work contributed over 28,000 hours in urban internships in public schools, hospitals, and in other venues.
Let me just highlight to save some time, we have a number of examples, but let me highlight a program that we are the only university in the country to have such a program. This is the Urban Service Track Program. It's an enrichment program involving the schools of dental medicine, medicine, nursing, pharmacy and social work.
Urban service track scholars are interested in working in urban underserved communities following graduation and complete additional outreach activities such as providing healthcare services to uninsured individuals in urban homeless shelters and soup kitchens, in addition to the required coursework that they complete in their respective schools.
And we have number of other examples. Again, to save time, we are doing a lot of things with health disparities in urban settings, and our faculty and students are involved in numerous other examples.
And thank you so much for your continued support of UConn and the activities we're involved with, and I'm happy to answer any questions you may have.
SENATOR KISSEL: Great. Thank you so much.
I have a really basic baby question here.
ROBERT McCARTHY: Sure.
SENATOR KISSEL: Vice provost, provost; what exactly are the duties of a provost?
ROBERT McCARTHY: Gosh. I really don't -- I'm just kidding. No, the provost, if you think about it, the provost is the chief academic officer of the university. And so the deans of the respective schools report directly to the provost.
Within the provost's office, the vice provost would be able to assist the provost in their responsibilities. So there's a vice provost for engagement, global affairs, academic affairs, and so on. So that's the structure that's -- it's really the administrative side of the house.
SENATOR KISSEL: And do you still do teaching as well?
ROBERT McCARTHY: Sure. Yeah. I am quite busy. I still teach in the pharmacy program. I think -- I'm in my 11th year as dean of the school of pharmacy. And I think, if we didn't have such a strong school of pharmacy and -- and a wonderful administrative structure of the school, I would not be able to spend the time I'm involved with public engagement.
SENATOR KISSEL: I appreciate you coming here telling us all the things that the university, my alma mater is doing. I know that there were a ton of pharmacy students in my dorm when I was going there.
ROBERT McCARTHY: I'm sorry.
SENATOR KISSEL: No, they --
ROBERT McCARTHY: They try to -- probably diagnose you and -- and cure you.
SENATOR KISSEL: At that time it was a five-year program. Is it still?
ROBERT McCARTHY: Yeah. It is now a six-year program --
SENATOR KISSEL: Wow.
ROBERT McCARTHY: -- the doctor of pharmacy program. Two years pre-pharmacy and -- you know, it's an amazing thing, the number of our students who are Connecticut residents and kids who relocate from New England to come to UConn and then stay in Connecticut. So we're really quite proud of that.
SENATOR KISSEL: Yeah. And I know, at least way back in the day, in my dorm we had a lot of folks from New Hampshire, too, participating in the program --
ROBERT McCARTHY: Yes, yes.
SENATOR KISSEL: -- for whatever reason. But it was highly esteemed then and it's great to know it's still highly esteemed now.
ROBERT McCARTHY: Yeah.
SENATOR KISSEL: So congratulations on all the great things that you do.
ROBERT McCARTHY: Thank you.
SENATOR KISSEL: Questions from members of the committee?
Seeing none, thank you, sir.
ROBERT McCARTHY: Thank you so much for your time.
SENATOR KISSEL: Jack Miller.
PAMELA R. EDINGTON: Yes. Good afternoon.
Good afternoon, Representative Rowe, Senator Kissel, and Representative Mushinsky, and members of the Legislative Program Review and Investigations Committee.
My name is Pamela Edington. I am the provost and dean of academic affairs. I'm glad my friend Bob McCarthy got that question. Thank you for the opportunity to submit comments for your consideration on the topic of public higher education involvement in state urban issues.
Norwalk Community College serves ten communities in southwest Fairfield County, including Stamford, Norwalk and Greenwich, the fourth, sixth and ninth largest cities in Connecticut. Although NCC is located in the geographic area referred to as Connecticut's Gold Coast, the major urban areas in our service region are not immune to the challenges of poverty, homelessness and crime.
Since his arrival in 2004, our president Dr. David Levinson has made community engagement an institutional priority and has consistently promoted community partnerships as the cornerstone of his administration.
As the chief academic officer at NCC, an early priority was to initiate a service learning program. From the single faculty member working with one community partner in 2006, service learning has expanded to 24 faculty, 39 courses, and 52 community agencies. Since 2007 more than 1,250 Norwalk Community College students have contributed over 25,000 hours to community agencies, assisting them with outreach and direct service to children, seniors, and families.
An outstanding service learning example is the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program, VITA. Accounting students enrolled in federal income tax classes who pass IRS certification exams and receive special IRS training work under the supervision of an NCC accounting professor, prepare and file federal and state tax returns for low-income families every Saturday from early February through April 15th.
Over the past three years, 3,857 student and faculty volunteer hours resulted in 656 federal and state returns being filed for total refunds exceeding $540,000 and an additional $238,000 in tax credits.
According to Professor of Accounting Tony Scott, it is one thing to sit in a classroom and learn about Earned Income Tax Credits, Child Tax Credits, and Education Credits, and yet another to sit down with the single parent who almost always is the mother of at least one child and who tells them about their pain and struggles in trying to make economic ends meet and desperately needs the money the student is in control of while preparing their return. When the student gets that, a transformation takes place.
A second example involves a local nonprofit agency that was struggling to identify suitable space for an afterschool program for low-income and at-risk middle school students. We helped the agency to locate the program at the college, and integrated service-learning students as homework tutors and role models.
A third example is the Family Economic Security Program which meets the needs of students with dependents who struggle to achieve economic security for their families while juggling the roles of student, parent, caretaker, and employee. This program assists working parents at NCC to complete their associate and baccalaureate degrees with scholarships and living stipends, along with individualized achievement coaching and financial coaching.
Finally, an example of a comprehensive community-based initiative. We are currently collaborating with a large number of public and private agencies in the city of Norwalk. In 2010, the Norwalk Housing Authority was awarded the CHOICE Neighborhoods Initiative Planning Grant by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. President Levinson chairs the transformation committee of the CHOICE Neighborhoods Initiative and I am a member of the People's Task Force and the Education Subcommittee.
The college is considered one of the anchor institutions for this project and pivotal to the successful transformation of a critical neighborhood within Norwalk. These and other community-based projects and partnerships are a primary reason Norwalk Community College was the first Connecticut community college selected to the President's Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll in 2009 and one of only two Connecticut community colleges listed on the 2012 honor roll.
Norwalk Community College is also one of only six community colleges in the nation to be recognized with the Carnegie Elective Classification of Community Engagement and one of only 17 public community colleges nationally to earn this classification since 2006.
In sum, Norwalk Community College takes its middle name of community very seriously, and enthusiastically supports legislative interest and assistance in promoting, expanding, and sustaining public higher education involvement in state urban issues.
Did I do three minutes?
SENATOR KISSEL: I -- I didn't hear the bell, so I think that was perfect.
PAMELA R. EDINGTON: Oh, I could keep going?
All right. Thank -- thank you very much.
SENATOR KISSEL: That was a wonderful presentation.
Any questions from members of the committee?
Seeing none, thank you so much.
PAMELA R. EDINGTON: You're welcome.
SENATOR KISSEL: Colonel Danny Stebbins. No? Yes?
COMMISSIONER REUBEN F. BRADFORD: Good afternoon, Representative Rowe, and other distinguished members of the committee. I'm Reuben Bradford. I'm Commissioner of the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection. And I'm accompanied here this afternoon by Colonel Dan Stebbins who is our day-to-day operations head of the division of state police and he is also the member that is spearheading this particular project.
The development of the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection began meeting with the Program Review and Investigations Committee staff in July, shortly after the effective date of Public Act 12-1.
Your staff has been interacting with our agency on a daily basis and we have provided them with a great deal of information that I am not going to repeat in my testimony today. We are impressed with the scope of the information your staff is already providing in the update presented to the committee today.
The Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection has made every effort to provide full cooperation in getting your staff whatever information they need and providing ready access to our staff at every level and we will continue in that effort.
The background summary that your staff has provided on page 1 of the report gives an accurate and complete summary of the historic statutory language as to what sworn staffing should be. It is important to view the history with the perspective that the necessary funding to attain the statutory staffing levels has, for many different reasons, often not been appropriated by the General Assembly.
While the present statutory language provides that the Commission of Emergency Services and Public Protection shall appoint and maintain a sufficient number of sworn state police personnel to efficiently maintain the operation of the division of state police, the commission, of course, cannot appoint and maintain positions that are not funded.
It is important to note that there is a necessary process time required to meet staffing levels. This agency works together with the Department of Administrative Services in a selection process that is required prior to the beginning of the rigorous six-month class for our recruits. Gains in sworn staffing levels due to new recruit classes may not result in overall staffing gains due to the normal attrition resulting from retirements.
Presently, the sworn staff -- or excuse me -- presently the sworn staffing level is at 1,101, of which 1,040 are available for active duty. The difference in the two figures is the fact that there are 57 troopers either on leave -- that could be military leave or maternity leave. There are a number of troopers on workmans' comp and there are various troopers on light duty, so that's why the difference in those two figures.
I am sure that in the course of their study and analysis, your staff will provide this committee with a complete picture of the operations and challenges faced by the Division of State Police, from which you will develop the standards required by Public Act 12-1.
In reviewing the -- this update report, I would keep in mind that a fuller picture will develop as the staff continues their study and analysis. One consideration to keep in mind is that in providing the public safety services to the State of Connecticut, the Division of State Police is responsible not only for public safety in those municipalities without their own police departments, but also for providing, on a statewide basis, those special services that all municipalities require, such as major crime investigations, emergency services, and counterterrorism-esque efforts.
Finally, a distinction that I am sure that this committee is well aware of, but I will state for the purposes of the record, is that the Program Review and Investigations Committee is not tasked with setting a statutory number for sworn staffing, but in developing standards for use by the Commission of Emergency Services and Public Protection in determining the commissioner's proposed level of staffing for the Division of State Police for the purposes of the biennial budget.
In the history of setting staffing levels, this is the most scientific and reasoned approach to the issue that has been taken. The required considerations of the committee include technological improvements, federal mandates and funding, statistical data and rates and types of criminal activity, staffing of patrol positions, staffing of positions within the division and the department that do not require the exercise of police powers, and changes in municipal police policy and staffing.
This will provide, for the first time, a completely analytical basis upon which the commissioner may determine the purpose -- proposed level of staffing for the Division of State Police for the purposes of the biennial budget.
And with that, that concludes my oral testimony. And myself and Colonel Stebbins are available to answer any questions anyone may have.
SENATOR KISSEL: Thank you, Commissioner, for taking the time out of your busy schedule to come and appear before the Program Review and Investigations Committee.
Chairman Rowe has some questions.
REP. ROWE: Thank you, Ranking Member Kissel.
And thank you, Commissioner and Colonel. I'm not sure to whom I'll direct this, but I'd asked previously when -- when we were on this topic about the mission, the general mission of the state police, and I was phrasing it in various degrees of inelegant-ness.
But can you tell us, you know, what -- what's your vision? What is, as we sit here in 2012, the mission of the Connecticut State Police?
COMMISSIONER REUBEN F. BRADFORD: Dan, I'm going to turn it over to you, since I was out of the -- the room when that occurred. I'm sorry. I had another appointment.
DANIEL R. STEBBINS: Well, that's a very interesting question. Actually, every commissioner that comes in usually changes it to some degree.
REP. ROWE: Right.
DANIEL R. STEBBINS: We've had 2 or 3-page mission statements and we've had paragraphs. It comes down to public safety and the people of Connecticut feeling safe. We do our best to make that happen.
We do it in many, many different ways, probably too numerous to list here. But it's basically to make the citizens of Connecticut feel safe in their community and in their state, not just the ones that live here, but the ones that travel on our interstates and other highways.
COMMISSIONER REUBEN F. BRADFORD: And I just want to add to that, that we do that in a number of ways. We do that by enforcement. We do that through education and we do it through our omnipresence.
REP. ROWE: Thank you.
And in my view, the state police achieve that -- that mission. So thank you for that, and I do think we have a great state police force.
We talked a little bit earlier about the dispatch consolidation and how that's going. Can you give us a little bit of insight into that?
And I assume there's been some -- some upfront costs towards -- affecting that consolidation, hopefully offset by what you anticipate to be future savings. Can you tell us a little bit where we are in that?
COMMISSIONER REUBEN F. BRADFORD: I'm -- I'm going to turn that one over to Dan also because he is overseeing the consolidation of dispatch.
But just let me add before Dan takes over the microphone, that the whole objective, that is to efficiently use our resources, and by doing that, we've -- we've already initiated a consolidated dispatch in the western district. It's going to free up troopers that are currently assigned to desk duty that dispatch other troopers to go back on patrol.
DANIEL R. STEBBINS: Yeah. Just to jump in here. It is our goal to make this a safe and enjoyable state to live in. However, we have a big agency and we want to do it very efficiently. And that self analysis has shown us that we're not that efficient in certain areas.
So since the Commissioner and I have been on board now, we've looked at the agency top down, as far as where are our people, what are they doing, and how are they being utilized?
As you know, our people go through an academy that's over six months long. They are taught all kinds of topics and they have to be proficient at them in order to graduate. Someone mentioned earlier that we seem to lose about one in five out of that group, about 20 percent. And that's been historically the same for years and years.
It's not for everybody. It's a difficult training academy to go through. It's day and evening classes and a lot of physical stuff that goes along with it. And some people decide that it's just not for them. And we respect that because we'd rather have them figure it out in the academy than being on the road some day and figuring it out.
So they are learning laws of arrest, criminal law, penal code, self defense, pursuit driving, patrol techniques, emergency medical techniques and services. They are trained in firearms, rules of evidence, search and seizure, accident investigation, criminal investigation, just to give you a few. That's an awful lot of work. That would be like three or four semesters of college crammed into six months.
We have an awful lot, as state taxpayers, invested in these people between the person, their benefit package, and their cars. Our goal was to go top down through the agency and look at where are they and what are they being used for. If we put all that training in them, then we should be using them in law enforcement roles.
We found people -- and, again, this is no reflection on anybody in the past but, as you know, sometimes things just get to where they are. We have people dispatching that are sworn law enforcement officers. They're doing background investigations that many other agencies, like the federal agencies, for example, they contract them out or they have non-sworn duty limitations.
We have people in grants management, special licensing, computer forensic examinations, security roles, and other basic administrative roles which have little or no involvement in law enforcement. And all of those were being done by troopers. Our goal coming in was to fix that and civilianize wherever possible. As you know, sometimes that requires training. We haven't gotten them all done, but we're at about 26 so far in the -- in the process.
We continue to work towards that goal. And with that note we're going to move off of dispatching from A, B and L, which we've already done. We've learned an awful lot from that program, had some bumps in the road, but in the long run, it's going to be a better system for us and for the State.
We're one of five police departments left in the state that still use cops to dispatch cops. Most agencies now use dispatchers to dispatch police officers. It's a very expensive proposition the way we were doing it. With the 55 that we had on the desk, it was costing us about 8 and a half million dollars to keep them there, when you consider the cost of what those people cost us taxpayers. We can do it for less than half of that with trained dispatchers.
And I say, trained dispatchers. We have great dispatchers. We have some of them that are better than the troopers that have been on the desk because they've been there for years and they know what they're doing.
However, in -- when you merge three groups together like Troops A, B and L, we found one troop, Troop A, is very busy. So now they have help from the other two troops to help answer the phones and process the information. That said, some of them are used to working at a slower rate, so we have to bring them up to speed.
So we have a training program that was not recognized in need for originally, but that starts this month in October. I expect good things to come from that. It will give people better time management, better abilities to actually work at a desk that is a busy desk. So we're working on that.
We've learned a lot from this first merger. We picked the three slower troops that are close together for a reason, because we're going to go next to the eastern district and take on four troops there, DECK. Troops D, E, C and K will be merged together. And I think we're going to have a much smoother transition this time because, again, we've learned a lot in this first time around.
Speaking of that kind of a change for our agency, this is probably one of the biggest changes that we've ever seen in well over a hundred years as far as the way we do business because we've always had troopers on the desk. So, as you know, when you always do something differently, it can be difficult to make change.
The job descriptions of the other people that I talked about, if they can be civilianized, we will. We've hired new people. Our HR department has been working hard this past year to do that. And so far, we're seeing some good successes and we're finding people with excellent abilities that have been coming on the job, better than some of the people we had there in the past. And that's not knocking them, but we're getting some good attorneys applying for the places where we used have troopers doing some of the legal work, as an example. So we're -- we're doing very well there.
We're also trying to get rid of some of our work, which is always a nice thing to do. Right now, or up until recently, we've always handled our own prisoners and -- including the transport of them. And compared to other agencies, like judicial marshals and correctional officers and their facilities, they have better facilities, and there are better vehicles to transport prisoners, and they have better facilities to hold them overnight and on weekends. So we now have an MOU that allows that to occur also.
So on the prisoner side, I think we're treating the people we arrest better now, too, by getting them out of ours cells and at least to a place were they can get out and have recreation, et cetera, and meals other than something from a fast food store.
We're even looking at expanding some of DOT's functions to help us out. As you've probably seen in the Hartford area, the service patrol. Service patrols provide a great service to the people on our highways and their own -- the New Haven -- that area and the Hartford area. What we want to do is expand it so that we touch those lines, in other words, all of 91 has service patrols.
We can stop -- obviously, we can provide protection, but a lot of times we don't have the gas, we don't have the other things that the service patrol does. So we continue to look at things like that to make this a better group of agencies working together.
Another thing that's -- that was spoken at earlier today -- this is where the Commissioner was. That's why he wasn't on the agenda. He was making a presentation for the agency at the commissioner's meeting. And they were talking about some of the things we've done in collaboration and cooperation with other state agencies.
Primarily, judicial marshals now have statewide radio frequencies because they're on our system. They bought into it, but it was much cheaper than buying a new radio system on their own. The same thing happened with the correctional officers. They have campus radio systems at each of their prisons but, yet, when they're out on the road doing transport, they did not have a radio system that would reach us or that they could reach each other with.
So those are just another example of how we're trying to do things smarter and better here in Connecticut on the public safety side.
REP. ROWE: I think a lot of those -- you have a lot of little things there that I would expect would add up and -- and bear some fruit in the coming years.
Am I correct that one of the consolidated -- I don't know if it was a dispatch center or an actual troop, but -- but with Bradley, can you just explain to us, being that it's an international airport and it's --
DANIEL R. STEBBINS: Absolutely. I'd be glad to.
REP. ROWE: Yeah.
DANIEL R. STEBBINS: Troop W, as it was known, Bradley Airport as it is properly titled now, has been a troop -- has had a troop designee for at least 30 years that I'm aware of, if not longer.
When you have a troop designee, that means you have a commanding officer, a master sergeant, support staff. You have the people assigned there work at that troop solely. So, therefore, because of the way our union contract works, you have days when you have the minimum that you need there and sometimes double the minimum that you need at the troop.
DOT owns and operates the airport. They've had an agreement with us that they wanted a certain level of staffing every shift, and they pay for that. It's a money transfer back to the state police. However, because of it having a troop designee, we were doubling the amount of resources that we committed there compared to what they were paying for.
So for two years in a row, we had a nine eight million bill for them and a nine nine million bill for DOT and they paid four seven or four eight but, yet, they were paying for what they asked for. So now they get what they asked for and that's what we provide.
So they're happy with the service. And there was always a little bit of a rub there because we weren't getting paid back for the resources that we had committed there. So it made sense to change the designee, to treat it as a function. The staffing that they want every shift, they get. And we are in agreement for probably the first time in many, many years on what the budget is going to be for the operation of that.
COMMISSIONER REUBEN F. BRADFORD: And I just want to add that we're providing that service out of Troop H, as opposed to having a standalone troop at the airport.
DANIEL R. STEBBINS: And just to expand a little bit.
REP. ROWE: Sure.
DANIEL R. STEBBINS: The troop is still there, meaning the facility. They still work out of that facility, but their roster, so to speak, is assigned to Troop H. They actually still have the same offices and everything that they had before, so they are still on location in the same place.
It's -- they still dispatch there. That hasn't changed. So it still looks like the troop. You still knock on the same doors and the same people answer the door, but they -- the dispatchers, obviously, we wanted to keep there, because they need eyes on the field because they dispatch police, fire and EMS up there.
That freed up, by the way, about five to six bodies a day for us to use elsewhere in law enforcement.
REP. ROWE: Wow. Okay. And you're obviously comfortable that everything is as it ought to be at the -- at the airport.
DANIEL R. STEBBINS: Absolutely. We meet DOT's request.
REP. ROWE: Right.
DANIEL R. STEBBINS: We also meet PSAs, a security plan for the airport, which they have input on and helped establish. All of this was run through them as a group first and everybody was in agreement.
REP. ROWE: Okay. Maybe the last question I had, Brian, of our staff, was talking about earlier overtime, and I know that there is some mandatory overtime.
Has the -- has the level of overtime increased as of late and do you expect that to change? And how does that -- what role does that play in staffing, ultimately, and the -- finding the correct level of staffing? I know that was a three-part question, but just --
DANIEL R. STEBBINS: I get it.
REP. ROWE: Okay.
DANIEL R. STEBBINS: The answer is, yes, overtime is up from where we started. Freeing up those five or six bodies at Troop W, for example, at Troop H, brought us into a very good staffing level for Troop H and it dropped, I think, the first pay period, like 300 hours of overtime. So that was very good for us to do.
What's happened, though, since then is we continue to lose people to attrition. People are continuing to retire. We had a class reach its 20-year anniversary, so several of them left. And for whatever reason, we had about seven people that work at Troop H who have been activated in the military. It was just one of those areas where a lot of our people were serving their country also and they were activated.
So it puts us -- because of the attrition, because of these type of other issues that we have no control over, we're back to using overtime greater than what we would like, but nowhere near as bad -- it would be if we hadn't already done that consolidation of Troop W.
And across the state, that same kind of effect is happening at all of our troops because, obviously, they don't all retire from the same troop. We probably lost, I don't know, ten out of that class that just got their 20th anniversary.
On the civilianization that you talked to me about, or you mentioned earlier that I brought up, where 26 people -- hiring new people, comparing it to the cost that we're moving over to the law enforcement side saved us 608,000 between salary of who was doing it, to salary who's now doing the job.
It's not a savings, because we took those law-enforcement resources and put them back into law enforcement where we had vacancies.
REP. ROWE: That makes sense. Okay.
Thank you, Colonel.
Thank you, commissioner. We appreciate that. And that you are continuing to make yourself available to the staff (inaudible).
DANIEL R. STEBBINS: We were actually enjoying that. They have been a pleasure to work with. We've given them a little bit of reading material.
REP. ROWE: They love reading material. So --
DANIEL R. STEBBINS: We appreciate their efforts. It's very important to us. This whole process is very important to us. As I tell everybody, we can't fail at this. This is public safety, so it's got to work.
REP. ROWE: Well said.
SENATOR KISSEL: Good afternoon, Mr. Chairman.
Just one -- one issue that came up earlier. I think it was Representative Becker talked about the weigh stations and the manning and that we've changed that around a little bit in the last year or two. It may have been statutory initiatives with motor vehicles.
I'm just wondering, what's the lay of the land of that right now, as far as what your role is, what other departments roles are?
And one of the things that that's looked towards is both public safety, but also as a -- we derive revenues from that as well. And I'm just wondering what you read is as far as where we stand with that in Connecticut right now.
DANIEL R. STEBBINS: You're correct on all points, sir. It does generate revenue and it does keep our highways safer.
I did take notes earlier today. And we have fixed locations of Danbury, Union, Greenwich, Middletown, Waterford, both north and south on the highway.
By statute that the Legislature, I believe, set a year plus ago, we worked a minimum of five shifts a week in Danbury; five shifts a week our scales are open in Union; Greenwich is eight shifts; Middletown, three; and Waterford is part of the roving group, in other words, the -- there's another 15 shifts that they get to pick where they're going to go.
They didn't want to put it all in statute because if you did that we know which way the trucks would be going. They'd be going around our scales. So we keep the -- we primarily do the roving portable scales. All the fixed operations are run by a team of mostly motor vehicle inspectors with one trooper for the case that may be criminal and some of those high tickets that you heard about.
Motor vehicle is primarily focused on the safety end of this, so they do more of the inspections of the vehicles. But obviously, when they find problems and they find overweights, et cetera, we are more obliging and writing the tickets.
SENATOR KISSEL: Well, thank you very much.
As I indicated earlier, I was involved in passing legislation that would honor the late Trooper Kenneth Hall who lost his life in the performance of his duties on I-91 in Enfield. And it's my understanding that in working with your department and others, that there will be a dedication ceremony in Middletown at the scale house sometime in November. And I look forward to attending that.
DANIEL R. STEBBINS: That's correct, and we'd be glad to have you there.
SENATOR KISSEL: Thank you for -- for working with me on that.
REP. ROWE: Thank you for bringing that up, Senator Kissel.
And if there's nothing further from the committee, we thank the Colonel and Commissioner very much for their time and for waiting around to share your thoughts with us. So thank you.
COMMISSIONER REUBEN F. BRADFORD: Thank you.
REP. ROWE: And I'm not sure if it's -- if they want to come up together. If we have Fred Clark and Rosemary Cleary, you -- you don't have to, but you're both together.
FRED CLARK: (Inaudible.)
Here you go. Fred Clark from the Department of Revenue Services and Rosemary Cleary for the Department of Revenue Services. Rosemary actually was the administrator of the insurance premiums tax for quite a few years until -- until a recent promotion.
We've been asked to attend today this hearing on the assessment methodology and process to fund the Connecticut Insurance Department, and also, I think, to address our role in the collection of the insurance premiums tax including the retaliatory tax.
And, as you know, domestic insurance companies report their insurance premiums tax to the department by filing Form 207 and foreign -- nonresident foreign insurance companies report their insurance premiums tax to the department by filing Form 207F. And that, the retaliatory tax is also recorded on Form 207F. And I believe that health care centers -- because I believe health care centers are also funders of the insurance department, report their health care center tax to the department by filing form 207HCC.
We have -- we have no role, really, in the -- in the funding assessment process, other than providing data on an annual basis to the Department of Insurance, which they use to make the assessment against Connecticut insurance companies.
REP. ROWE: Thank you. We appreciate that.
I didn't -- I -- did you have written testimony? Was that in your writing?
FRED CLARK: No.
REP. ROWE: Okay. Well, we have it then -- in our minds, I mean.
Was there any questions from the committee?
Okay. Thank you.
REP. MUSHINSKY: It's not a question. I just wanted to take a moment to correct something for the record. I had my numbers mixed up on the -- the domestic insurers. It's -- it's only 109 of them. The nondomestics is the group that's over a thousand. So it's 1,309 for the nondomestics.
REP. ROWE: And that -- we did clarify that when you were out of the room at the time.
REP. MUSHINSKY: Oh, thank you.
REP. ROWE: Yeah. You're welcome.
REP. MUSHINSKY: Thank you for correcting that.
REP. ROWE: Sure. Thank you.
And so thank you very much for your testimony. We appreciate it.
That's the end of our list, but if there's anyone we haven't called that is interested. Once? Twice? Gone. So that will conclude our public hearing.