Tuesday March 5, 2013

PUTNEY -- Putney is going to keep its full-time contract with the Windham County Sheriff's Department, but details on whether the town will partner with Westminster, or pay for the service on its own, remain to be seen.

Putney residents debated an article on its future law enforcement service for about an hour at town meeting Tuesday.

The Selectboard was looking for direction on whether the town should enter into a shared contract with the town of Westminster to pay for its own sheriff costs.

There was strong support to retain full-time service in Putney, but town meeting was unclear on whether Putney should continue paying for 40 hours of service on its own, or work with Westminster to receive about 35 hours of service in each town, at a reduced cost.

In the end voters agreed to raise up to $40,000 to support full-time service, but left it up to the Selectboard to figure out how to provide the town with police service next year.

Details on hours, dollars, benefits, insurance costs and area bogged down the conversation as Putney residents tried to figure out how much law enforcement it wanted, and could afford.

Most everyone said they supported a full-time deputy, but there was disagreement over whether the savings generated through the Westminster contact was worth the reduced service it would bring.

Under the proposed shared contract with Westminster, each town would receive about 35 hours of law-enforcement services.


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But the difference between Putney retaining its full-time service, and only getting 35 hours through a shared contract with Westminster, was about $20,000, or one penny on the tax rate, and Putney residents could not decide what was best for the town.

Westminster approved its funding at its town meeting on Saturday.

Kathy Lawrence said she was opposed to creating the partnership with Westminster.

Lawrence said Westminster was a bigger town with more households and Putney would lose response time if the deputy was not in Putney during a call.

"I believe it would be best to keep it in Putney," Lawrence said. "It's not just speeding tickets. It's more than that. I feel strongly to keep it as a Putney position."

Alice Maes, however, said it made sense to work with Westminster.

Windham County Sheriff Keith Clark said both towns benefited from the partnership by sharing some of the costs.

After the vote, Selectboard Chairman Josh Laughlin said he wanted to form a police service committee to come up with recommendations.

Laughlin said it was unclear after the vote what Putney residents wanted to do.

On other town meeting business, residents approved the $1.75 million general fund budget with little discussion.

Putney's most famous son, Gov. Peter Shumlin, made an appearance at Putney Town Meeting to talk about his agenda and answer some questions about broadband.

There are many sections in Putney that still don't have high-speed Internet service and some residents wanted to know if the state would be able to deliver on its promise of having the service by the end of the year.

Shumlin said he still believed every corner of Vermont would have broadband by the end of 2013.

Putney residents approved the school budget, but not before debating a motion to add $30,000 to replace a part-time special education position which was going to be eliminated from the proposed budget.

Even though enrollment, and the number of students expected to receive special education services are both projected to go down, some Putney residents wanted to put an extra $30,000 in the budget to support special ed services.

School Board Chairman Benji Cragin said the board put its budget together understanding the challenges, demographics and financial realities, and said he did not support the amendment.

The motion was defeated and the original $3.6 million budget passed.

Voters also agreed to spend up to $47,500 to support a Green Mountain Power lighting efficiency project at Putney Central School.

The money will be borrowed through the GMP Evergreen Fund which allows towns to borrow money at zero percent interest for five years.

The project could save the town $5,800 in annual electric costs, which is about what the town will spend on the debt service.

The school district will also spend up to $17,500 on structural improvements to the school after voters approved a project to upgrade fascia and soffits on the building.

Arthur and Carol Westing were named Putney's Citizens of the Year.

Putney residents also approved an article that forces the town to oppose tar sands oil, and only do business with companies that do not support tar sands oil.

The town also supported a non-binding resolution to ask its legislators to enact stronger gun control laws.

Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at hwtisman@reformer.com, or 802-254-2311, ext. 279. You can follow him on Twitter @HowardReformer.