BRATTLEBORO >> Two courthouses may no longer have security from the Windham County Sheriff's Office.
By Aug. 31, the Vermont Court Administrator's Office will have to make a decision of whether to increase pay to deputies serving at the Newfane and Brattleboro court houses or to enter into a courthouse security contract with a different entity. Windham County Sheriff Keith Clark said last fiscal year's contract totaled $250,914, but this year his office is asking for an hourly rate of about $35 per hour for each deputy that covers the court house, but it is at the Court Administrator's discretion as to how many deputies they want.
"I can't keep losing money to courts," said Clark.
Clark said courthouse security involves screening at the entrance, managing the court room, managing jurors on juror day, a person to patrol inside and outside the building and someone inside the court room when a judge is at the bench. Clark said he would need a 10 to 12 percent increase to break even for courthouse security, but so far he has been offered around a 3-percent increase, which he says is not enough. He further notes that that money covers not only deputy time but also uniforms, overhead, benefits and equipment. He added that the court calculated it needs 4.8 full-time people there, but Clark argues that on any given day there may be six to eight deputies at the courthouse as requested by the court.
According to Clark, two years ago he expressed that what the Sheriff's Office was being paid for courthouse security was "unsustainable." But this year when Clark was told the wouldn't be getting the necessary increase, Clark said he had to make a "business decision."
Now, while Clark says how the court finds new security is "not his problem," he does note some potential impacts of a new entity entering into a contract with the courthouses. Clark added they he believes if the courthouses do not enter a contract with the Windham County Sheriff Office, they may enter one with an "untrusted entity."
"I'm hoping that the court administrator's officer finds funds to staff all courts across the state, but I don't think it's going to happen," said Clark.
He further notes he hopes they can find an entity to come under contract with and make sure they can operate safely, but as far as he can see, he says there is no training or transition plan.
Clark said he feels a contract with another entity would mean more responsibility for the Brattleboro Police Department, as he feels its members will have to pick up the calls such as when someone enters the courthouse with a knife in their back pocket.
But Clark said he thinks this is happening across the state and not just in his office and that the public doesn't understand that the Windham County Sheriff's office survives by contract. Plus, sheriff's departments are not statutorily mandated to provide court security in Vermont, but ithey do so on a contractual basis.
"I think it's because overall we're starting to see decrease in funding in the office, whether for grants or other sources of income. I used to be able to subsidize for a few years, but can't anymore because I don't have funds coming in anymore, there's no county money coming in ..." said Clark.
Clark said his office will have to wait until the end of August to see how this unfolds of whether or not they would have more "manpower" to have more deputies for patrol of community policing.
"Typically the Sheriff's contract runs with the courthouse from July 1 to June 30, but the Windham County Sheriff's office gave extension on the current contact until Aug. 31 this year.
While the Windham County Sheriff will continue to transport prisoners to and from court under a separate agreement with the state, the Court Administrator's Office has issued a request for proposals for someone else to handle courthouse security, but no other vendor has been chosen at this time.
"We'll have to wait and see what happens, it's in the Court Administrator's Office hands now," said Clark.
Maddi Shaw can be reached at 802-254-2311 ext 275