ARLINGTON >> After considering several options, the Arlington Select Board has decided to decrease the town's contract with the Bennington County Sheriff's Department from 25 hours a week to 20.
This comes after Sheriff Chad Schmidt informed the board that, due to recent regulations that require anyone out on patrol to be a full-time employee of the department, the cost of 25 hours of patrolling a week would be increasing from $32,000 to $54,000. The board discussed 22 hours, to limit the change, but eventually settled on 20 hours a week, which will cost about $43,000, according to estimates from Schmidt. The contract began on July 1 and will continue through July 1 of next year.
"This will overlap into next year's budget," said board Chairman Keith Squires, "So we can make an adjustment next year if we agree to go over. This takes effect in July, so it will run us over (budget) for the last six months of the year."
"It's so hard," said board member and state Rep. Cynthia Browning, D-Bennington 4. "We're always hearing about speeding activity, and people say there just aren't enough patrols."
At the board's June 27 meeting, board members invited Lieutenant Thomas McCoy of the Vermont State Police to speak before the board, to see if the state police could mitigate the difference in hours by increasing its patrols of the town.
"We do currently have a couple contracts," said McCoy, "We've had a contract with Dorset for as long as I can remember, for about 80 hours a month. We also have very small contracts with the town of Readsboro, which is about 16 hours a month, and the town of Rupert, which is only about eight hours a month. To be honest with you, it's a challenge for us to fill those contracts, because we only have X amount of troopers, and troopers do like to have their downtime, and they do like to get their days off, and a lot of our troopers have young families, with kids. They've put in extra hours to help cover these contracts, but there's also government-sponsored highway initiatives, like Click-It-Or-Ticket and DWI Hours, that we also have to fill. So, it would be something that we wouldn't be able to do right now."
"With that said," he added, "Our contract rate is $68 an hour, and keeps going up every year. It's not because the troopers are making a lot more money, it's because it's expensive to pay for insurance, and gasoline, and cruisers, and all that goes a long with it. Our barracks hasn't grown, but our complaints, while they haven't doubled, have grown half again, just because there's more people, more traffic, and more tourism coming to Vermont for all the right reasons."
"The good news is, there's a lot of troopers living in Arlington," he said, "Even though we're not patrolling on contract hours, we're always driving through Arlington, all the time."
Squires said that, due to this past winter being so mild, the town still has a significant stockpile of sand left over, and won't have to purchase much more for this winter. That should help pay for the increase in this year's budget.
"Next year's budget is going to be the problem," he said, "We've been spending $32,000 for years, now we've got to increase it to $43,000, and for less service. How do you justify that?"
Derek Carson can be reached for comment at 802-447-7567, ext. 122.