Saturday November 17, 2012

PUTNEY -- About six years ago, Windham County Sheriff Keith Clark came to the Putney Selectboard with a proposition: Agree to partner with the sheriff's department for four years, Clark said, and Putney would get full-time police coverage for about the same amount of money the town was spending on its part-time coverage.

The department had won a federal grant that would cover three years worth of the coverage, and if the town put away its annual police budget it would pay for the fourth year.

Clark said at the time that the big decision would come during the fifth year, when the federal funding ran out and the town would have to decide how much police protection it wanted.

That day has finally come.

Clark came before the Putney Selectboard last week to report that it would now cost the town about $72,000 annually to maintain the same level of service.

The town pays about $20,000 a year now.

"This is the ugly conversation I said we would need to have someday," Clark said before making his pitch to the board. "The community has seen the benefit of this and now you have to decide if the town can support it."

Windham County Sheriff Deputy Melissa Martin has been spending 40 hours a week in Putney since 2009, and her salary is covered through September 2013.

The board will be putting together its 2013 budget in the coming months and Clark wanted to convince the board members that they should find a way to support the service.


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Like all towns in Vermont, Putney will be struggling to put together a 2013 budget that maintains services without raising the tax rate too high.

Clark said Town Manager Cynthia Stoddard "cringed" when she found out it would cost the town $72,000 to pay for the police protection.

The challenge is compounded, Clark explained, because Martin has been spending more of her time investigating serious crime and less time writing speeding tickets.

That means the town is taking in less money in ticket revenues.

Clark explained that the Sheriff's Department is already covering overhead costs, such as car service, but he said insurance and salary for a full time officer has jumped since the federal grant started four years ago.

Martin has had an impact on the community, Clark said. She moved to town and has been able to strengthen the relationship with Landmark College, he said.

Putney residents have become familiar with Martin, he said, and her impact is widespread.

As people have become more familiar and comfortable with Martin, they are more likely to confide in her and report crimes, or have her intervene before the crimes happen.
"This program has worked here. When you want to look for a success story, this is it," Clark said. "In the next few months I hope we can find a way to make this work. I would hate to see Putney lose this. We knew it was going to get to this point."

Selectboard member Brad King asked Clark how much police protection the town would get for about $20,000 a year, the amount the town has budgeted over the past few years.

Clark said $20,000 would provide about 10 hours a week.

"When people look at a $52,000 increase at town meeting they are going to ask questions," King said.

Clark said he ran a similar program in Townshend, but for a variety of reasons, he said, it was not as successful.

Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at hwtisman@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 279.