On Thursday, 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 that will allow them to move forward on this study and create a working group to lead the endeavor.
This memorandum of understanding, or MOU, states that requests for proposals for this study will be issued 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 towns.
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 sizes of each towns' grand list.
The meeting was held in the Bennington County courthouse in the Village of Manchester. Ivan Beattie, chair of the Manchester selectboard said they thought it would be a nice gesture to hold the meeting in neutral territory.
Rob Gaiotti, Dorset town manager, said that the towns and the select boards are tasked with providing municipal services on a restricted budget. The state wide property taxes put in place by Act 60 and 68 has put a pressure not only on the school board, but also on the town, he said.
"The education property tax numbers in Manchester and Dorset alone are around $15 or 16 million, are above and beyond....it puts downward pressure on municipal budgets," he said. "With that thought, this is part of the genesis of the project."
Before the meeting, Chris Brooks, the chairman of the Dorset select board, said that both boards are so fiscally conservative that they squeak and they like to look for ways to save money for taxpayers.
"We want to make sure we can work together," he said. "This is not going to be a fast track thing."
In a phone call, Steve Jeffery, the executive director of the Vermont League of Cities and Towns said that there has been an effort to consolidate public safety in Central Vermont, and there have been some major challenges. However, he said these consolidation efforts are very important and a good idea.
"These are great things to look at," he said. "Any time we can look for efficiencies in local government [we should]."
One of the greatest challenges facing towns that currently have consolidated public safety or Manchester and Dorset, who are studying the idea is control, George Maleck, president of Central Vermont Chamber of Commerce. He has been involved with the public safety consolidation around Montpelier.
"There is a concern about turf...[and] whether it's the municipal bodies give up control or the departments and employees [give up that control]," he said.
Ultimately, in many cases, Maleck said, the consolidation of public safety is the only way to keep costs low, without seeing a deterioration in the provided services.
Lieutenant Reg Trayah of the Vermont State Police and the commander of the Shaftsbury Barracks, said in an interview that this idea is a great thing for Dorset. Currently, Dorset is patrolled by state troopers based in Shaftsbury. Along with responding to calls to the areas, Shaftsbury and Dorset have a contract for 80 additional hours of police time a month.
Trayah said it is hard to cover the 12 towns they provide service too, especially with only two or three troopers working.
"Sometimes, we run from complaint to complaint," he said. "[This idea] to team up for public safety, I think it would work great." Mike Casey, chief operations officer and critical care paramedic of the Manchester rescue Squad said the potential consolidation would not change the area the rescue squad serves, but rather how they are funded. They would become a part of the municipalities and would submit a budget, instead of going in front of the select boards of the towns they serve and asking for more funding.
"I think it's a good a idea," he said. "But it is a matter of would it work."
Manchester Police Chief Mike Hall, and officials of The Manchester Fire Department, Dorset and East Dorset Fire Departments, were unable to be reached for comment by presstime.