PUTNEY — Select Board members expressed their disappointment as they discussed the decision by the Windham County Sheriff's Office to rescind its proposed contract with the town.
At Wednesday's Select Board meeting, Robert Lakin, Captain of the Windham County Sheriff's Office explained why Sheriff Keith Clark is rescinding the proposed contract with the town for the Fiscal Year 2017. A letter dated May 18 was sent to the town from the Sheriff's Office stating that it had not received a signed contract or "necessary assurances" from the town to secure a deputy for Putney. The letter stated that as a result, the Sheriff's Office has "secured funding" for Putney's current deputy, Josh Parro's position, but no longer has the resources to offer full-time service.
Town Manager Cynthia Stoddard said she received two contracts from the Sheriff's Office by email, one in November 2015 and another in March 2016, neither of which she says included a deadline date to return the agreement. Stoddard added that in the past, Putney's contract with the Windham County Sheriff's Office has never been signed prior to the end of June. On Wednesday, Lakin explained that the town may have up to 20 hours of service from several deputies per week at an hourly rate of $49. While the hours of service will decrease, the cost to town is the same as a full-time position.
Speaking to Lakin, Select Board Chairman Joshua Laughlin said, "If it was really a situation where you guys were hoping to offer us a contract and hoping we were going to take the contract, I really would have assumed we would have gotten a phone call from the Sheriff's Office saying, 'you know we really need to know whether you're going to do this,' because as Cynthia pointed out, it's never been something where in June we decided to sign a contract and the Sheriff's Office said, 'oh, no we can't do that because we don't have manpower.'"
Lakin said the hiring and retention climate for law enforcement at the state and national level is such that the Sheriff's Office could "overextend" its staff and resources if it entered a contract with Putney as previously proposed. The current contract between the town and the Sheriff's Office is for a full-time position at $57,000 per year, which expires on June 30, 2016.
Laughlin said he understands the reality of the situation is the Sheriff's Office is losing money at that price. Other towns in Windham County have seen an increase in their law enforcement expenses from the Sheriff's Office as well. According to Westminster's town manager, Russell Hodgkins, the town's agreement with the Sheriff's Office for FY 2017 has increased by $3,000 from last year with the same amount of service hours.
For some Putney Select Board members, the rescinding of its current contract felt like a second strike of disappointment and lack of communication between the town and the Sheriff's Office. In March, Clark gave the town limited notice that Corporal Melissa Evans, who was stationed in Putney for six years, would be moved to Vernon.
"When Melissa was moved, we were a little bit surprised, to put it somewhat mildly, that we hadn't been contacted by the Sheriff's department previous to that time and at least opened the discussion of this being a possibility," said Laughlin. "This was just a letter that we received saying, 'we're rescinding the offer of the contract and if you want to discuss a 20-hour week contract, then that's a possibility."
At the meeting Wednesday night, Lakin stated that primarily there will be motor vehicle enforcement and as a "positive spin," the Putney deputies will be out in the community more and not spending as much time on paperwork. Lakin explained that providing criminal enforcement requires a lot of time and that if there is a 911 call and there is a deputy in town, the Sheriff's Office is responsible for that investigation.
Marc Fellows of the Public Safety Committee asked how many hours would be spent on a criminal call such as breaking and entering. Lakin said it varies but a minimum of about four hours. In the scenario of 20 hours of service to Putney, the hours will be split between a mixture of full-time and part-time staff from the Sheriff's Office. Select Board member Stephen Hed said he felt there is more value in having one person serve the town as opposed to several for the purpose of developing relationships through the community.
"That's what scares me, you say it might be a number of people coming in," said Hed.
Stoddard noted that Putney already sees more than one deputy in town on a regular basis. Stoddard said a Public Safety Committee meeting will be held within two weeks to further discuss the matter before the next Select Board meeting.
Maddi Shaw can be reached at 802-254-2311 ext 275