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Selectboard OKs sheriff dept. contract

PUTNEY—After much deliberation, including a 90-minute Special Selectboard Meeting and a sit-down with Windham County Sheriff Keith Clark, the Board unanimously voted to renew the law-enforcement contract with Clark’s department at their June 29 regular meeting.

At the end of May, just about six weeks before the fiscal year 2016 contract expired, Town Manager Cynthia Stoddard received word from the Windham County Sheriff’s Department that they couldn’t honor the fiscal year 2017 contract Stoddard had expected to sign.

That contract was to go into effect July 1.

Citing a labor shortage, the Department informed the town they could no longer patrol Putney for 40 hours per week and would have to decrease coverage.

They offered Putney a six-month contract for an average of 80 hours per month at a cost of $4,246.67 per month. Last year’s contract cost the town $4,500 per month for twice the coverage hours.

Stoddard and some Board members expressed their frustration with the lack of communication from the Department and the abrupt change in the contract, which would leave the town with half the law-enforcement hours they were used to getting.

The Selectboard called the special meeting on June 22 to discuss whether to continue working with the Department or contract with the Vermont State Police for the town’s law-enforcement needs.

The Board and Stoddard discussed with the public the difference in cost between the two entities, and pointed out that even with the increase, the Windham County department is still less expensive than the state police.

A question came up about who covers 911 calls. Even with a Windham County department contract, the state police are the primary responders to emergency calls; the sheriff’s department sometimes comes in as back-up, Deputy Josh Parro confirmed at the meeting.

Some residents wondered why the contract is for only six months. The answer was that this will allow the town to reassess its law-enforcement needs before locking in a year-long contract.

Board Chair Josh Laughlin shared the Public Safety Committee’s recommendation: after reviewing the contract, the committee suggested sticking with the sheriff’s department.

The Board decided to table the vote until the following week’s Regular Selectboard Meeting.

At the June 29 meeting, Laughlin reported on the meeting he, Clark, and Stoddard had, which Laughlin described as “very constructive.” He characterized the complications as, “a large part, from a difference in perspective” and “relatively small” communication lapses.

“The three of us were all able to come out of that meeting feeling like we comfortably addressed those issues and we would comfortably be able to move forward with a six-month contract,” Laughlin said.

Stoddard agreed, saying she believed communications will improve.

Laughlin noted Clark offered to help the town figure out the right questions to ask when requesting data from the sheriff’s department and the state police.

In the next six months, Laughlin said, the town and the Public Safety Committee will address community policing and what it means to Putney. Although he acknowledged they may not come up “with the perfect answer” in six months, he hopes one year will be a “reasonable timeline” to research whether to stay with the Windham County department.

The Board opted to accept the Public Safety Committee’s recommendations and unanimously voted at the June 29 meeting to approve the sheriff department’s six-month contract.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #366 (Wednesday, July 20, 2016). This story appeared on page A6.

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