Bristol OKs leaner police budget on second try

BRISTOL — Bristol residents in the village police district approved the amended police department spending plan for fiscal year 2011 in a 25-16 paper ballot vote on Monday evening. The plan got the green light following an initial 20-19 vote to cut the proposed budget by a $10,000.
The approved spending plan stands at $362,653, with $304,303 to be raised by taxes on residents in the Bristol police district.
Voters rejected the initial spending proposal of $378,806 in a 15-14 vote on May 24. Though Chief Kevin Gibbs and the members of the Bristol selectboard trimmed the initial proposal to $372,653 for Monday’s police district meeting, members of the district at that meeting felt that more money could be saved in 2011 now that the police force has been reduced from four officers to three, due to the departure of officer Brian Fox.
Town Administrator Bill Bryant acknowledged that eliminating the fourth position rather than refilling it would save money in salary and benefit costs, but he emphasized that with just three officers and 14 shifts to be covered each week, the budget would no doubt be struck by the additional costs of hiring part-time officers who could fill in the gaps.
Bryant also expressed a hesitation to reduce the budget too much more, saying he feared that recruiting new officers for the district in the future could become next to impossible. Officers are becoming increasingly high in demand, he warned, and unless the town of Bristol can offer competitive salaries, it risks losing good candidates to larger police departments, like those in Burlington or Montpelier.
Selectwoman Sharon Compagna shared a similar fear that the “excellent” service and response time that the district has experienced thus far would suffer if cuts went too far.
“I would hate to see us tie their hands too tightly,” she said.
Chief Gibbs, however, seemed optimistic about the newly proposed number, and stressed that a tighter budget would simply mean the department would have to keep a closer eye on its spending.
“The tighter the budget the tighter we manage,” he said. “We’re going to try to manage this budget as best we can.”
Gibbs was responding partly to the concerns expressed by those in attendance about the $11,782 deficit from the fiscal year that ended on June 30, 2009, that would be retired in the 2011 budget. These same concerns were brought up at the May 24 meeting.
Bryant explained that, by nature, the police department deficit is particularly difficult to avoid, as the majority of the budget is tied up in personnel costs, which does not give the department a lot of leeway should an unexpected expenditure arise.
The additional $10,000 decrease in spending will be added to the $10,000 that Gibbs and the selectboard had already cut from the amount to be raised from taxpayers living within the police district that was originally proposed. The original $10,000 savings to taxpayers was accomplished by ending the town’s $10,000 contract with the Addison County Sheriff’s Department for traffic patrols outside the police district, and instead giving that contract to the police department, which would expand its patrols outside the police district.
The board was also able to reduce costs by moving the police department offices to Howden Hall, which will reduce the cost of rent and renovations.
Though Bryant and the selectboard did not elaborate on where the additional $10,000 cut would come from, they ended the meeting confident that the approved budget would be feasible both for the Bristol Police Department, and for the district’s taxpayers.
Reporter Tamara Hilmes is at [email protected].

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