Londonderry to decide on Vermont State Police contract

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LONDONDERRY — Which way an article asking voters to approve of contracting with the Vermont State Police will go on Tuesday is anyone's guess.

"We do have a serious problem in this town. I hear it all," said resident Matt Wilder, employed part time at the town's Transfer Station, during an informational meeting on Thursday, Feb. 25. "If I was in Vegas right now, I'd bet it's 50/50. It's not a landslide one way or another.

He said residents are scared police would be writing speeding tickets to "the working people and the parents that want to work and are taking the kids to school." If the article passes, he called for data to be released to the public or through media outlets regularly so people could see "what these officers are doing."

Some residents have told committee members they don't want to vote for the contract due to it not including enough hours. But then there's the issue of adding another cost to the budget.

"It's a shame when a basic service like policing comes down to a choice between services when so many other communities are able, although many communities are challenged by taxes," said Peter Pagnucco, chairman of the town's Policing Committee.

The committee released a report in October with the recommendation that the town enter into a contract with the Vermont State Police for 25 hours a week. The cost, $86,000, will need to be approved by voters on Tuesday. The contract is not unusual as other towns are also billed at a rate of $66 an hour.

The effort would be a start to addressing issues believed to be associated with opioid use. The committee's work had come after "a lot of fear" had been "expressed about drug-related crime," according to Pagnucco.

The crime rate is currently difficult to report, the committee said, as it only had available what the state police had recorded after responding to calls in Londonderry.

"We don't know how much crime is happening that we're not detecting," Pagnucco said.

An increased police presence is expected to bring the crime rate up, according to committee members' conversations with the Vermont State Police. And the agency would still respond to calls in town when an officer is not on the clock there. Officials hope monthly data could go up on the town's website, londonderryvt.org, where the committee's report is available to read.

Troopers would be employed in Londonderry on a part-time/overtime basis.

"The way it will work out is however they'll work it out. They could come here first and do their overtime prior to going on shift," said committee member Michael Arace. "However their management splits up their day is how it will work."

Commuting was not of particular concern for Arace, who said he thought troopers could sign in from home if they lived closer to town than the police barracks. Scheduling will be a matter of collaboration between the police and the town, Pagnucco added.

If the article passes, committee members intend to continue meeting. Part of their work could include approaching nearby towns about joint contracting. Another part will be about assessing the data.

Worries over crime in Londonderry began to surface after police began looking into unsolved arsons over the course of the last 10 years. In May 2015, a home burned in a suspicious fire prompting the investigation.

Burglaries from Londonderry homes, residences of neighboring towns, the Londonderry Transfer Station, South Londonderry Post Office and multiple business were reported with an unusual regularity, leading Rep. Oliver Olsen to classify the reported crime as "not representative of our community." In October, the Twitchell Town Office Building, the Flood Brook Union School and two residences were burglarized, along with two schools and a highway garage in nearby towns.

The committee's report also mentioned there are "sales, possession and distribution of controlled substances occurring in locations within Londonderry on an ongoing basis." It noted the drug trafficking arrests of four people in August in the neighboring town of Peru, in which two Londonderry residents were involved. In the suspects' possession were 480 bags of heroin, 50 grams of crack cocaine, 15 grams of powder cocaine and other narcotic substances, according to police. And there was the October arrest of a Guatemalan man, who accepted possession of 88 pounds of heroin on a sidewalk in Manchester.

Selectboard member Paul Gordon said the committee could talk about issues around the article at Town Meeting. The Planning Commission will also be on hand to discuss an article asking voters to set aside $60,000 in the Town Infrastructure Improvement Fund. Commission members have been "deeply involved in how to revitalize Town Hall" over time, he said.

Another article will ask whether the town should purchase land, 6600 to 6950 Route 100, at a total cost of $150,000. A 20 percent down payment and a five-year financing plan are part of the deal. The site could be used for building a sand and gravel shed.

"There are sand and gravel deposits on that land that could help offset the price of the land," Gordon said. "For a number of years, the town has had the luxury of being able to use and share the state of Vermont's sand and gravel sheds on Route 11. And it appears that use is going to come to an end in the foreseeable future due to some changes, I believe, in the Department of Transportation's policy."

Also, the property could be used to mitigate traffic concerns at the Transfer Station. A new entrance and exit for the facility could be developed to improve safety.

"Cars traveling to the south from the west and to Londonderry are legally traveling at 50 miles per hour and people exiting to head to Londonderry going to the south can't really see the cars that would be approaching from the north that are coming up the hill. So it's kind of a dangerous exit," said Gordon, adding that there was talk of using the property for solar panel siting to reduce some of the town's energy needs but no study had been done yet.

Concerns exist about whether a previous owner took material out the land without properly restoring it to meet state permitting guidelines. The subject will come up at Monday's Selectboard meeting.

"It wouldn't surprise me after the conclusion of conversation tomorrow (Monday) that the board and the owners might decide to hold off on this as far as a vote and make sure we get all our ducks in a row," said Gordon.

Contact Chris Mays at cmays@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 273.


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