BENNINGTON >> This year's town budget will include money for electronic control devices, AKA Tasers, and $25,000 for marketing, assuming voters approve it come March.
The Select Board voted unanimously Monday to budget $21,500 for 10 electronic control devices, commonly referred to as Tasers after a popular brand name.
The request to purchase them was made by Bennington Police Chief Paul Doucette, who outlined his reasons why during a budget workshop session earlier in January. His initial request was for $27,000 to purchase 13 devices, outfitting half the department. After some discussion, it was lowered to 10.
Doucette said Monday that with 10, there should be, on average, three available per shift. Detectives, he said, will not be equipped with them.
In past meetings, he said that most police departments covering an area the size of Bennington have electronic control devices. In the past year, he said, there have been two incidents where officers suffered hand injuries which took them off duty for several months. These injuries could have been avoided using electronic control devices, he said.
At Monday's meeting, he said they would not be replacing the pepper spray officers now have. Pepper spray, while an effective tool, requires a person to be "decontaminated" and often leads to an emergency room visit. The budget request will cover training and maintenance. State law also requires police agencies to have policies regarding the use of such devices, whether said departments have them or not.
The board also decided to increase the budget for economic and community development by a total of $25,000.
Economic and Community Development Director Michael Harrington had requested the line item for marketing, which had been at $5,000, be increased by $10,000. Another $15,000 will be placed in a reserve fund, which will require the board's approval to spend. That money will be for regional marketing efforts.
Harrington said the regional marketing efforts will likely be in the form of collaborations with other southern Vermont towns in Bennington and Windham Counties. Towns may work together to post funds on grant matches, or fund things that can leverage more money for marketing.
This puts the total town budget, which includes the general fund, fire, and police budgets, at $12,132,360. This is $368,220 over last year, an increase of 3.13 percent.
Town Manager Stuart Hurd said with the current grand list, this budget would increase the tax rate by about 2.5 cents. The grand list is expected to go up by 1 percent, however, so the total increase will be about 1.5 cents.
Voters will have the final say on the budget at Town Meeting Day in March.