Planning for the Future

In a continuing effort to provide the best and most efficient services, the Dorset and Manchester Selectboards have agreed to commission a public safety study that will focus on possible areas of collaboration and consolidation.

We expect that the upcoming fiscal year 2015 budgets will include funding for the joint study.

Municipal services are funded primarily from property taxes. However, our ability to fund local services is continually diminishing because of Vermont's education funding system, which removes $15 million from the Dorset and Manchester communities to fund schools elsewhere in the state.

Needless to say, this places heavy pressure on local officials when crafting municipal budgets. Historically, municipal services in Dorset and Manchester have been defined almost exclusively by the geo-politcal borders of the two towns. As students of local history know, the borders of Dorset and Manchester were drawn in 1761 by Governor Benning Wentworth of New Hampshire, who was appointed by the King of England. This, of course, raises an interesting question: why, over two-hundred and fifty years later, do we continue, albeit passively, to allow the King of England to strongly influence how we deliver essential municipal services? A lot has changed since then, obviously, including the coming of age of our modern communication systems (telephones, cell phones, radio communications, the internet) and transportation infrastructure, which allows for much swifter, safer travel between the two towns. In the 1800s, it would have taken all day to travel between Dorset and Manchester, and days, or even weeks, to effectively communicate between the two towns, something that today happens instantaneously.

Dorset, like many other Vermont towns, has recently experienced an increase in property theft. Due to this trend the Dorset Selectboard has set a goal to research long-term law enforcement strategies. Recently the Dorset Planning Commission surveyed residents about future planning issues. The residents resoundingly expressed their interest in increased law enforcement services.

This public safety study will provide us with vital information to assist in planning for these long-term strategies. Dorset is a small rural town with limited resources, and a collaborative effort holds potential for increased services at the most reasonable cost to taxpayers. Meanwhile, Manchester maintains a police department for less than 5,000 residents. In order to gain efficiencies and provide more services to the residents and businesses of Manchester it is necessary to think more globally and look to form partnerships beyond the Town's borders. The most obvious partner, geographically, historically, and demographically, is the Town of Dorset, its government and its residents. Consolidation and increased collaboration, if implemented thoughtfully, could result in efficiencies; but perhaps even more importantly could result in increased community safety and services.

At the December 5 meeting at the Manchester Village Court House, the Dorset and Manchester Selectboards agreed that the study should provide a depth of information about collaboration and consolidation of all essential public safety services. This approach will allow Dorset and Manchester to assess all our current resources for additional efficiencies that would enhance our services. As a result this study will also address long-term planning strategies for fire and emergency medical services. Dorset and Manchester have a long, proud history of providing fire and emergency medical services at a very high level. These efforts have been made possible by the generations of dedicated volunteers who have given so much to our communities. Based on recent growth trends of our area, in the coming years with the continued loss of our young people, this volunteer model may be in jeopardy. This study will allow us to explore opportunities for collaboration and consolidation that will allow us to continue this tradition of high quality fire and emergency medical services.

Through this process, a workgroup comprised of those involved in providing these essential services will be created. This will allow the study to be guided by the valuable experience and knowledge of our local leaders. The public safety workgroup will meet multiple times to assist in creating certain aspects of the study. All meetings will be warned and open to the public, and we welcome your input during this process. The first meeting of the public safety work group will be Jan. 6, 2014 at the Manchester Public Safety Facility starting at 5 p.m. We expect that subsequent meetings will be rotated in order to provide geographic diversity and encourage public participation.

As demonstrated by the recent drug sweeps in the Northshire, times are changing. Outside influences are coming into Dorset and Manchester and changing our once-peaceful towns. These influences are unconcerned with our town borders. As a result, we must change our thinking in order to protect our citizens and maintain our shared quality of life that we treasure so dearly. In conclusion, we will never know the answers to these important questions unless we sit down, together, and examine the issues and challenges associated with consolidation and increased collaboration. This will require all parties to put self-interests aside and work towards common goals. We believe we owe at least that much to the taxpayers of our respective towns.

Ivan Beattie is the chairman of Manchester Selectboard. Chris Brooks is the chairman of the Dorset Selectboard.


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