Friday February 1, 2013

PUTNEY -- The Selectboard is hosting a special pre-Town Meeting information session next week to discuss a proposal by the Windham County Sheriff's Department to have the town fund full-time law enforcement coverage in Putney.

On Monday, Feb. 4 at 6:30 p.m. at the Putney Central School gym, the town will explain the proposal and talk about the plan which could add up to $40,000 on to the proposed 2014 budget.

"We've had a lot of interest in this," Putney Town Manager Cynthia Stoddard said. "People have already called with comments so I think we should have a good crowd."

Four years ago Windham County Sheriff Keith Clark came before the Selectboard with a proposal. Clark had won a federal grant that would help pay for one of his deputies to patrol Putney full time. The federal money, about $20,000 a year, which is what the town had been paying for service, would cover the full-time service for three years.

In the fourth year, Clark said, the town would have to provide the entire $60,000 or so to continue the coverage.

The contract goes through September 2013 so Putney has to figure out how it wants to address the service in fiscal year 2014.

The Selectboard is including about $20,000 in its proposed 2014 budget, which would cover about 10 hours of service per week, but the board will ask voters in a separate warning if they support the additional coverage with another $40,000.

Stoddard said the board is recommending the service, though she stressed that it will be up to voters to decide.

The separate article will be debated, and voted on, from the floor of town meeting.

Putney officials have also been working with the town of Westminster to possibly partner with the sheriff's department to provide full-time service in both towns for a slightly reduced rate.

Westminster voters will also debate the topic at their town meeting, which is held the Saturday before Putney's Tuesday meeting, so Putney voters will know what Westminster has decided before the meeting on Tuesday, March 6.

The Westminster Selectboard has included $14,000 in its budget for 24 weekly hours of service, and voters in Westminster will decide if they want to spend an additional $37,000 to increase the level of police protection in Westminster.

If both towns agree to the deal it would provide about 35 hours of weekly service in each town. The deal would only be for one year to allow both communities to see if the service is appropriate.

Stoddard said an extra $40,000 in the Putney budget would raise the tax rate by almost two cents, and that would be on top of the tax increase that Putney residents already are facing.

The budget is about level funded, but after spending down the surplus over the past few years, Stoddard said there is no money left to prevent a tax rate increase.

Putney property owners will probably be facing an approximately four cent increase in the tax rate even before the law enforcement question is addressed.

A representative from Landmark College will also be at the meeting Monday.

The sheriff's department has investigated a number of incidents at the college, though Stoddard said no proposals or agreements have been discussed with the college to have Landmark cover some of the policing costs.

According to Stoddard, most of the residents who have spoken up on the issue support having a full-time deputy in Putney.

Melissa Martin, the Windham County deputy who has been working in Putney, has become well known in town and Stoddard said people have become accustomed to her presence.

"We think the service is a valuable asset to town. We like having it," said Stoddard. "We wanted to make it a separate article so people can talk about it at town meeting and the voters can decide."

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