A Promising Start

An important step - at least we hope a year or so from now it will be seen as important - was taken last Thursday at the Bennington County Courthouse where the Manchester and Dorset Select Boards held an unusual concurrent meeting. The boards met together to ratify a memorandum of understanding to study ways they might collaborate and consolidate some public safety operations such as police, fire and rescue services.

All the memorandum does at this point is commit both select boards to include as part of their town meeting warnings an article to allow for public funds to be appropriated to finance a consultant who would work alongside a study workgroup consisting of several local representatives from both towns. A report containing recommendations would be due about a year from now.

It's long been clear that regionalizing or spreading the costs of police and emergency rescue services would make a lot of sense. Right now Dorset relies on the Vermont State Police for much of its law enforcement needs. They will continue to need the VSP to help, but the state police are spread thinly around Bennington County. It may take longer than is desirable for them to be able to respond to a crime scene or an accident. Using the Manchester Police Department - strengthened with the addition of more officers, police cars and equipment, would seem a better way to go. That of course will cost money. Finding an equitable division of those costs between Manchester and Dorset for better, closer police protection will be the hard part.

The Manchester Rescue Squad already provides services to Dorset and is seeking enhanced financial support from both towns. At first blush, it would seem that there isn't much to tinker with here, since the model of serving both communities (along with a couple of others) is already in place. But perhaps having an umbrella of regional thinking in place might encourage new ideas of delivering their vital and needed services more efficiently. Maybe not. It's worth a look to see if by looking long range, there are tweaks to the present set up that would save money and yield better results.

Fire departments already have mutual aid agreements in place so what, as a practical matter, would change here is hard to see. But again, it's a discussion worth having to see if some "out of the box" ideas can result in better services, lower costs, or both. You never know.

Even if the process yields up some recommendations that would alter the landscape of public safety services, outwardly, residents of both towns may not see much difference. It's not like one town is going to lose control over its destiny or be swallowed up by the other. But such regionalizing of services as cost pressures relentlessly continue - it's interesting that the preamble to the agreement notes in a couple of places the pressure of education taxes - is a discussion worth having. Who knows - it might even lead on to an agreement that would really be useful and cost-effective around the Dana Thompson Recreation Park - an area truly ripe for a discussion about regionalizing and collaboration.

This has promise, and we'll be watching to see where this intriguing initiative leads.


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