ARLINGTON — An attempt to look into possible overbilling has the Bennington County Sheriff’s Department and Arlington Select Board planning to part ways.
The town has contracted with the sheriff’s department for coverage of the town for years, but that agreement has been under scrutiny in recent months after some on the board questioned whether the town was getting a good value for its money.
Over the summer, the board met with Sheriff’s Department officials and renegotiated its contract. Part of what was negotiated was improved reporting that would allow the town to evaluate the benefits it received for its money.
At the last meeting, board member Matthew Bykowski questions whether the town had been overbilled by five hours and was given board approval to pursue the matter.
A meeting on Oct. 6 with Bykowski and Town Administrator Nick Zaiac didn’t go well, Bykowski said.
After admitting the town had been overbilled and discussing methods of working that out, Bykowski said Capt. Andrew Hurley became defensive as Bykowski and Zaiac challenged the department’s compliance with the terms of the contract.
“Andrew clearly did not appreciate the review of the contract terms, and billing charges to the Town of Arlington,” Bykowski told the board Monday night at the Arlington Select Board meeting. “Andrew stated to Myself and Nick that he does not wish to continue to provide services to the town of Arlington and will be canceling our contract with 15 days written notice.”
Bykowski said Zaiac received an email the next day from Hurley “stating that he has canceled the contract as of 25-Oct-2020,” Bykowski said.
Bykowski said the problem with that is that the contract was signed by Sheriff Chad D. Schmidt. With no authorized agents, only Schmidt can cancel the contract.
“As of meeting time, Chad D. Schmidt has not provided official cancellation of the contract,” Bykowski said. “My understanding is he may not even be in state at this point.”
Bykowski presented the idea of potentially contracting with the Vermont State Police instead of the BCSD. He said the cost per hour is higher but that the value to the town may be close to even.
The sheriff’s department charges for things like writing reports, backup officers, serving warrants, court appearances and more. He said the State Police does not.
He said he doesn’t see the value in the sheriff’s department.
He said the town has paid $9,315 for 207 hours that resulted in 19 traffic stops, 11 tickets, and 17 other incidents.
“The crux of the matter is we have spent a lot of money and we haven’t got a lot for it,” Bykowski said. “I do not see anything worth it at this point.”
In addition, with so many Troopers living in Arlington, the town gets a certain amount of patrol for free as Troopers leave their homes, return for lunch, and return at the end of their shifts.
Board member Todd Wilkins said he was recusing himself from the vote because he is a VSP Trooper, but he said “Arlington is one of the most fortunate towns in Bennington County because of the number of troopers who live here.”
He also pointed out that if the town does contract with VSP, he would not be patrolling in Arlington to avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest.
The board agreed to have Zaiac explore a contract with VSP for services and consider canceling its contract with the sheriff’s department.
Both items will be taken up at its next meeting.