Middlebury considers future of K-9 program

MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury selectmen are considering the disposition of equipment from the Middlebury Police Department’s K-9 program. It’s a program that currently faces an uncertain future, as officer George Merkel — owner and handler of police dog Akido — is taking the animal with him to Vergennes where he will soon begin his role as police chief.
Merkel told selectmen at their meeting last Tuesday about his desire to establish a K-9 program in Vergennes. With that in mind, he is hoping to bring the police dog equipment with him. Middlebury-area businesses and individuals donated money and supplies to help establish and operate the K-9 program at no cost to local taxpayers. A nonprofit “Police Community Projects Committee” has been managing fund-raising for the K-9 initiative. The main asset is a cruiser that has been specially equipped to accommodate Akido.
Selectmen must now determine whether they, or the Police Community Projects Committee, has the authority to convey the equipment.
“(The town) may have no role whatsoever (in ruling on the equipment), or it may have a big role,” Town Manager Bill Finger said. “We need to understand what the details of that (committee) are.”
Middlebury Selectman Don Keeler, a longtime member of the Addison County Sheriff’s Department, offered to step up and help resolve the situation quickly.
“I don’t want to get into a bad situation when this could be resolved for $1,500,” Keeler said. “If the (police) car is worth $1,500, I’ll write a check out of my pocket and give you the $1,500; that’s how I feel about the program.”
In other action at Tuesday’s meeting, selectmen:
• Offered Vermont Public Radio (VPR) a reduced monthly rental rate of $750 (with annual increases of 3 percent) for placement of an antenna on the Chipman Hill tower. The antenna would allow for the creation of classical music station 90.1-FM WOXM.
VPR’s charge would be substantially less than the commercial monthly rate of $1,500 for a spot on the tower, revenues the town collects for the Battell Trust. The trust may use the money for maintenance of, and potential future additions to, the Battell Park and Chipman Hill lands.
The selectboard made its offer to VPR with the proviso that there be a technical study to determine whether additional users could be accommodated on the 30-foot vacancy on the tower that the classical music station is targeting. For example, Central Vermont Public Service Corp. (CVPS) and the Vermont Electric Power Co. (VELCO) have been seeking to fortify positions on the tower, according to town officials.
Brian Donahue, VPR’s chief financial officer and vice president for finance and operations, told selectmen through a memo that the classical station’s “presence alone will not prevent another radio station from locating at the site and VPR will in no way knowingly act to inhibit another broadcaster from locating at the site.” Donahue added, however, that it should be up to the future, co-locating station(s) to undertake the requisite technical studies.
Donahue, in a separate memo to selectmen, had asked selectmen to consider a monthly rate of $600 for VPR, citing examples of rates the company pays for higher antenna placements at other locations.
The selectboard will now await an official response from VPR to see if its tower terms are palatable.
• Agreed not to oppose CVPS’s effort to seek permission from the Vermont Public Service Board to launch its “Middlebury Reliability Project.” The project involves construction of a new 46kV electric transmission line between Weybridge and New Haven; replacement of electrical conductors on an existing 46kV line between Middlebury and Weybridge; expansion of an existing substation including installation of a new capacitor bank on Hewitt Road in Bristol; and installation of new circuit breakers within existing substations owned by VELCO in New Haven and Middlebury.
Middlebury Town Planner Fred Dunnington explained the project would provide some insurance for Middlebury, as it would allow for the town to be back-fed electricity through Weybridge in case something happens to the town’s main service line that runs over Chipman Hill.
“I think this is desirable,” Dunnington said of the project.
“The board believes this project is well-conceived and offers benefit to Middlebury without apparent detriment,” selectboard Chairman John Tenny said.
“It appears to me to be a good project with minimal impact to the town,” Selectman Craig Bingham said.
• Agreed to find money in the current year’s budget to pay for installation of some basic lighting in the Memorial Sports Center parking lot off Buttolph Drive. The board made its decision after reading a letter from Middlebury Amateur Hockey Association President Molly Leach, who reported, “A large number of people feel very unsafe and at risk when walking from the rink to their cars.”
Some of the hockey practices run until 9:30 p.m.
Organizers built, and currently operate, the Memorial Sports Center without using town funds. Selectmen on Tuesday said they feel it is appropriate to use some town funds for lighting, as the absence of illumination could become a liability issue for the community.
“I don’t think we need to spend a lot of money, but we need to do something,” Keeler said.
• Continued to plan a fiscal year 2011 municipal budget that will be presented to voters on Town Meeting Day. Selectmen want to present a spending plan that, for the second year in a row, requires no increase in the municipal tax rate.

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