VERNON -- The town has formalized a $231,624 contract for Windham County Sheriff's Department to provide full-time patrols that begin in less than a month.

The contract also provides for a one-week "transitional period" starting June 24 -- a time in which sheriff's deputies will begin answering emergency calls while Vernon Police Department closes out its business.

Sheriff Keith Clark expects a smooth hand-off, and he said his department already has held some meetings with officials and business owners in Vernon.

"Part of the transition already has occurred," Clark said Wednesday.

The change comes after town residents, in the context of a cost-cutting debate due to the pending closure of the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant, twice voted to close the Vernon Police Department and obtain law-enforcement coverage from an outside entity.

Sheriff Keith Clark (Zachary P. Stephens/Reformer file photo)
Sheriff Keith Clark (Zachary P. Stephens/Reformer file photo)

The first such vote came at Town Meeting in March, when attendees amended the municipal budget to shut the town police department and allocated just $40,000 for the Selectboard to seek patrols from the sheriff's department or State Police.

That vote prompted a petition to reconsider the budget, which led to a special Town Meeting in early May. There were proposals from Vernon police and the sheriff's department: Vernon could provide 140 hours of weekly coverage for $298,550, while Clark said his office could provide the same level of coverage for $218,400 or full-time, 24/7 coverage for about $13,000 more.

Residents voted 244-181 to authorize full-time patrols by sheriff's deputies for the fiscal year beginning July 1. This week, the Selectboard and Clark agreed on a contract spelling out the details of that coverage.

"It's the same thing that the townspeople voted on at the special Town Meeting," Selectboard Chairwoman Patty O'Donnell said. "It's a very basic contract that was worked on between his attorney and our attorney. It provides for all the services that we asked them to provide for."

The document says the sheriff's office will provide services "including but not limited to general patrols; general investigations; first response to criminal activity, 911 calls and emergency requests; dispatch services; and general policing activities."

Also included are "animal control services under the town's ordinance."

That will happen via "168 personnel hours of service per week under this agreement on a 24 hour per day/seven days per week schedule." Town officials took pains to underline that fact.

"Every call will be responded to. There's going to be a police officer in this town 24 hours a day, seven days a week," O'Donnell said. "If a call comes in, no matter what the call is, it will be responded to by the sheriff's department."

She added that, "during the night, when we (currently) have somebody on call, now we'll have somebody on the road."

Clark said he will make arrangements so that there will be coverage in Vernon even when the town's usual deputies are away for training, court or other duties.

Other elements of the contract include:

-- Patrols will "primarily concentrate in areas of said town identified and determined to be priority police presence areas by the town and the WCSO."

-- The sheriff's department "shall furnish and maintain all necessary equipment and supplies to perform the law-enforcement services under this agreement. The WCSO shall furnish fully equipped police cruiser(s) for all services incurred in connection with law enforcement and related duties concerning the town."

-- The town is responsible for providing office space, Internet access, phone lines and "secure space for storage of existing and future evidence."

-- The sheriff's office "is responsible for managing and controlling its overtime and additional personnel costs," the contract says. But the document also says "the parties agree that significant and unanticipated events should not result in an unreasonable financial burden to the WCSO."

Examples of such events include but are not limited to "natural and manmade disasters, protests and law enforcement activities that cannot be managed without the use of additional personnel." If the sheriff's department incurs more than 100 hours of overtime per quarter, the contract says, the town is responsible for that cost.

-- The town will pay the sheriff's department installments of $57,906 on or before July 1, Oct. 1, Jan. 1 and April 1.

-- The town also is responsible for a $4,800 payment for a seven-day transitional period starting June 24.

"The parties understand the need to have a transitional period to ensure adequate policing coverage, reduce conflict, to conduct inventories, transfer open cases and close out reporting requirements," the contract says.

During that period, Clark said, deputies will get all necessary information on open cases, check on the status of evidence and also begin responding to town emergencies.

"In that last week, we will take the calls, so their current officers will be able to close out anything they're working on," he said.

O'Donnell had praise for interim town police Chief Matthew Stains, who took over last month after the resignation of former Chief Mary Beth Hebert.

"Matt has been absolutely fantastic and extremely professional," O'Donnell said. "He will work with the sheriff's department to help with the transition."

Mike Faher can be reached at mfaher@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.