On Dec. 5, the select boards of both towns held a joint meeting to explain a study they will be conducting to look at the consolidation of public safety services in the towns. Both boards signed and approved a memorandum of understanding tat will allow them to move forward on this study and create the working group.
This memorandum of understanding, or MOU, states that requests for proposals for this study will be issues by April 30, 2014. The submissions will be due by June 4, with the study itself starting around July 15, 2014. The towns want the study to be completed on or by November 30, 2014. Article 2.4 of the MOU states that the study will be completed by a professional or academic organization mutually agreed upon by both town.
To pay for the study, there will either be a warned article as a part of the 2014 Town Meeting, or included in the 2015 fiscal year budget which voters in both towns will be asked to approve. Dorset will reimburse Manchester for 36 percent of the costs surrounding this study, based on the relative size of each town's grand list. If either town does not approve the funding, the working group will dissolve.
The working group is made up of several residents and officials from both Manchester and Dorset. Ralph Colin and Paul T. Carroccio were named as the co-chairmen of the group.
"We're all here for one purpose, and that is to try to come up with some plans to benefit the community as a whole," Colin said. "I have a hard time distinguishing one town from the other...I think we're all a member of one community and we're trying to unite the two communities in terms of the emergency services that are provided with the hope that this committee can recommend findings that can provide the finest emergency services for both communities for a reasonable cost."
Colin said the hope is to reach this goal by keeping the needs of the whole community in mind and not just the services that different committee members represent.
O'Keefe said he personally understands emergency management and services very well in Manchester, but not in Dorset, while committee members may really only understand the service they represent. Those individuals representing the public at large, O'Keefe said, are at a great disadvantage of understanding.
"Over the next couple of meetings, the goal is to build a foundation of knowledge of all the people of the comittee...to sort of understand what all the different groups do," he said.
To help the committee members understand the emergency services in each town, each group will give presentations informing the committee about services provided, equipment in the department, as well as a tour of their locations.
Police Chief Michael Hall gave the first presentation of this nature to the committee Monday night.
Currently, the Manchester Police Department has four marked police cars and one unmarked. Hall said the unmarked vehicle is used when driving a marked car is not appropriate, such as during an undercover operation. The department also has two military humvees that were acquired through the United States Department of Defense for essentially no cost, except for maintenance.
"Those vehicles do not belong to the town, because of the nature of what they are," he said. "When we get through [with the humvees] we basically call them [the department of defense], they come in and pick them up and take them somewhere out west and destroy them."
There are three mobile data stations - the laptops in the police cars that includes a tie in to the Vermont department of motor vehicles and the federal Bureau of Investigation. The department is phasing out the software currently in use for their record keeping, to adopt an easier to use and less expensive program.
The marked cars are also fitted with mobile vision cameras, where the interaction with the officer and the car they pull over is recorded, Hall said. One car contains an automated license plate reader, that scans plates as they drive past and sends the information through a multitude of databases.
"That license plate is checked against known databases containing anything from arrest warrants, license suspensions to terrorist threats - people that may be on terrorist watch lists, things of that nature," he said. "That data is primarily used by Homeland Security...for specific targets. It has been useful in criminal investigations."
The police department is also equipped with a dispatch station manned 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. Hall said sometimes, the dispatchers can help the police officers in some of the administrative aspects of criminal investigations, like database research or paperwork. The equipment used for communications is in the process of being upgraded and the town has applied for a grant from Homeland Security to help cover the costs, Hall said.
The police department equips each of the officers with uniforms, duty belt and firearms. Hall said the days of officers supplying their own weapons are gone.
The department has eight full time officers and five part time officers, as well as four full time dispatchers and 3 part time dispatchers.
O'Keefe said it costs approximately $1.3 million to run the police department, without the addition of soft costs like Internet and phones.
The working group will meet again on Jan. 20 at the East Dorset Fire Department. The Manchester Rescue Squad and the East Dorset Fire Department will give their presentations at that meeting.
The group includes Ivan Beattie, chair of Manchester select board, Lisa Souls, Manchester select board member, Billy Brownlee and Paul T. Caroccio, Manchester residents, Manchester Rescue Squad President Ben Weiss and Chief Operating Officer and critical care paramedic Michael Casey, Manchester Fire Chief Phillip "Grub" Bourn and Captain Jim Doherty, Manchester Police Chief Michael Hall and Sergeant PJ Owens, Chris Brooks, chair of Dorset Select Board, Michael Oltedal, Dorset select board member, John Cueman and Ralph Colin, Dorset residents, East Dorset Fire Assistant Chief Howard Towsley, Dorset Fire Chief Shawn Hazelton and prudential chair Jack Stannard, as well as Jean Kingston and Jim Sullivan of the Bennington County Regional Committee. Town managers, John O'Keefe, Manchester and Rob Giaotti, Dorset, are also members of the working group.