Townshend boosts sheriff's presence
TOWNSHEND -- Townshend residents are seeing a lot more of the Windham County Sheriff's Department these days.
The new fiscal year marked the start of a new, 40-hour-per-week patrol contract between the town and the sheriff's office. It comes at a price of $55,000, and officials are hoping the boost in law enforcement pays for itself and also helps address problems including parking issues near Leland & Gray Union Middle and High School.
Officials noted that the town's level of sheriff's service can be re-evaluated relatively soon if necessary, given that the contract is for just one year.
"If it doesn't work, then we go back to what we've had," Selectboard Chairwoman Kathy Hege said.
Windham County Sheriff Keith Clark said his department previously had been providing 38.5 hours of service per month in Townshend. And the municipal budget approved at Town Meeting in March had allocated $20,000 for law enforcement in fiscal year 2015.
But Selectboard members subsequently inquired about ways to better-address parking problems near the high school, including spaces by the town hall. Hege said officials were informed that one solution would be bolstering the police presence in town.
After reviewing proposals from Clark, the Selectboard on June 2 approved a contract not to exceed $55,000 with the sheriff's department for fiscal year 2015. Officials believe increased revenue from fines will offset the town's increased spending, Hege said.
"A majority of the board felt it was a good idea," Hege said.
This is not the first time Townshend has contracted for additional sheriff's patrols. At the June 2 meeting, then-Selectboard member David Dezendorf noted that, between 2010 and 2013, a federal COPS grant had allowed Townshend to increase patrols to almost 40 hours weekly.
During that time, Dezendorf estimated, the town's revenue from tickets and fines was triple current levels.
Hege told the Reformer that, when the town was receiving COPS grant funding, "we were very happy with that and the coverage that we got."
Because of the more prominent law-enforcement presence that began last week, Hege said Townshend residents will be more apt to report problems and concerns.
Also, parking is a long-term point of contention between the town and Leland & Gray -- so much so that it has been suggested as a possible reason for Townshend voters' perennial rejection of the school's proposed budgets. School administrators maintain that they have done what they can to address the situation, but there have been continuing complaints.
Having a sheriff's deputy in town more often might alleviate that problem, Hege reasoned.
"The premise behind this was, we have a lot of issues with the high school being in town and the parking around the common, and having an officer in town would help with those issues," she said.
She added that "our big focus is the congestion that we get in town," especially around the time of school dismissal.
Townshend is the Windham County Sheriff's Department's fourth contract for 40 hours of weekly patrol coverage. The others are in Westminster, Putney and Stratton.
Clark said sheriff's Deputy Andrew Brothers has been assigned to Townshend.
Mike Faher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.
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