VERNON—The town will be losing its full-time police department on July 1, but it won’t be losing full-time police protection.
That was the result of Monday’s Special Town Meeting at Vernon Elementary School, where voters decided to shut down its police department and direct the Selectboard to sign a one-year contract with the Windham County Sheriff’s Department for its police services.
The vote, taken by Australian ballot, was 244 to 181. According to Town Moderator Tim Arsenault, it was one of the largest crowds ever for a town meeting in Vernon.
At Town Meeting in March, voters cut the police budget down to $40,000 for fiscal year 2015. It was part of a spate of cuts that reduced the town budget from $2.1 million to $1.85 million.
After Town Meeting, a petition drive to restore the lost police funding succeeded, prompting Monday night’s meeting.
Interim Police Chief Matthew Stains, who took over for Mary Beth Hebert, who resigned last week, asked voters to appropriate $298,550 to run his department for fiscal 2015. That figure was about $68,000 less than what’s budgeted this year and would fund 140 hours per week of police coverage.
Windham County Sheriff Keith Clark’s proposal offered 140 hours per week of coverage for $218,400, and full-time coverage for about $13,000 more.
The Sheriff’s Department currently has 32 deputies and 6 non-sworn staff, and a fleet of 25 vehicles. It provides regional dispatching services, and contracts with 15 towns, three schools, one supervisory union, and one village in the county.
In his slide presentation, Clark said through economies of scale, his department could provide adequate cover at a lower fixed cost. All revenue generated by local ordinance enforcement, such as speeding tickets, would be retained by the town.
Clark said response times would be as fast as the present, because equipment improvements have enabled deputies to spend more time in their cars and less time in Newfane at the Sheriff’s Office.
Ultimately, Vernon voters decided to take up the Sheriff’s Department’s offer, and approved a town budget of $2.04 million for fiscal 2015.
The exact terms of the contract are still to be negotiated with the Selectboard, according to the Sheriff’s Department. Once formalized, it will be the largest single current contract for the department.
On the department’s Facebook page, it was indicated those discussions may include hiring some of the current members of the Vernon Police and utilizing their equipment.
“Our employment policy doesn’t directly cover absorption of officers from a department. Rather, we’ve utilized an application process which has enabled a fair and legal hiring environment. This puts us in a position where we need to evaluate this long standing policy and determine if it needs to be changed given this scenario, or applied in its current form.
“As for vehicles, we will need to do due diligence of the PD’s fleet to determine the condition of the vehicles and their maintenance history. However, the vehicles are owned by the town and the board will need to decide what to do with them.”
The Sheriff’s Department has worked with Vernon in the past. In 2009, the Selectboard used the department to cover staffing shortages on the Vernon Police.