Stratton ending patrols by Windham Sheriff's Office

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STRATTON — Local officials are not renewing Stratton's public security contract with the Windham County Sheriff's Office, believing the expense hasn't been worthwhile.

Stratton has hired the Sheriff's Office to conduct patrols in town for at least the last five years. It allotted $47,000 for the part-time service this fiscal year ending in June, according to town Treasurer Alyson Marcucci.

The arrangement as recently as 2016-2017 involved full-time patrol work at a price tag of $60,000 - until it was changed to part-time the following fiscal year.

Now, the Stratton Select Board has decided to eliminate the expense altogether. No money was appropriated for the Sheriff's Office under the item "rural patrol" in Stratton's proposed general fund for the coming fiscal year, which voters approved during town meeting Tuesday morning.

"Part-time wasn't working out," Al Dupell, the Select Board Chairman, said in an interview after the annual town meeting. "They weren't doing a good job," he said, citing for instance that deputies weren't patrolling the right roads.

The Select Board plans to put the decision on record during an upcoming meeting this month, Dupell said.

The Sheriff's Office's departure would leave the town's public safety in the hands of the Vermont State Police and Winhall Police Department.

The state police has a presence practically everywhere in town, said Town Clerk Kent Young, whereas the Winhall Police Department has been contracted by the ski resort on the northeast corner of town.

Stratton has entered into contracts with the Windham County Sheriff's Office "on and off" for decades, Young said. The law enforcement agency hasn't officially been informed of the town's upcoming withdrawal, he said.

The Sheriff's Office didn't immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

During the town meeting, the roughly 70 voters present approved an article to reduce the town's elected planning commissioners from seven to five members.

A retiring member proposed the reduction, Young said. "It seemed to him to be too many for a small town, and it makes it a bit easier to get a quorum to the meeting — three members instead of four."

Because the article passed, the two open, four-year seats on the commission were eliminated.

At the floor vote for town officials, all the incumbents were re-elected. Dupell was voted in for another year on the Select Board, along with fellow members Chris Liller (3 years) and Kevin Robinson (1 year).

Carolyn Beckedorff was elected to fill a vacant auditor position with a term of two years out of three years.

At the school board meeting that followed, Allison Young was chosen as school director for three years, a seat that had been vacated by Siobhan Eddy Young.

On the school side, Stratton approved an expenditure of $1,023,476 to educate their children, or $15,835.38 per equalized pupil. However, members of the School Board notified voters that some adjustments are being made to a policy that will affect the budget, which will require a special meeting and a new vote on the amended budget in the coming months.

Young said that over the past three to four years there has been an increase in secondary school students living in the town — from 21 in 2017, to 31 in 2018 and 39 in 2019. She said the increase is both because people are moving to Stratton to work in service industries related to the ski area and some second homeowners are deciding to take up primary residence in the town.

"People are coming to the state, which, on the surface is a good thing," said Siobhan Eddy Young, who finished up her term on the School Board during the meeting.

When the number of students increases dramatically for such a small town that is also struggling with the state education formula, said Young, it drives the tax rate up in an unsustainable manner. Even though Stratton has a number of second homes, townhouses and condominiums, the burden of educating the town's students falls primarily on those who live there full time, said Young.

"We were looking at a potential increase of 44 percent," she said. "There are people living in Stratton who literally cannot afford that."

While the number of students sent to Burr and Burton Academy, Manchester Elementary Middle School and The Mountain School in Winhall has remained relatively stable, the number of students going to Stratton Mountain School has gone from four in 2015, to 10 in 2018, to 15 in 2019.

Even though voters approved tuition of $17,490 per pupil to send students in grades 9-12 to Burr and Burton Academy in Manchester, they set the overall tuition rate at $15,835.38 for other approved schools in the region. While the Burr and Burton tuition rate is fixed for the upcoming school year, the rate for approved schools will probably change when the state issues its education guidelines in the next couple of months.

Voters also approved a town budget of $852,219.65 and a highway fund of $907,000. In addition, they approved a contribution of $42,150 to the Stratton Mountain Volunteer Fire Company operating budget. Voters also approved $39,833 in contributions to various non-profit agencies, including Senior Solutions, the Stratton Mountain Rescue Ambulance Fund, Grace Cottage Foundation, the Wardsboro Public Library and the Winhall Library.

The budget was increased by a floor vote from $848,219.65 to add $2,000 to the appropriations requests from Londonderry Rescue and Wardsboro Rescue.

Bob Audette of the Brattleboro Reformer contributed to this article.

Tiffany Tan can be reached at ttan@benningtonbanner.com, @tiffgtan at Twitter and 802-447-7567 ext. 122.

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