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Ferrisburgh eyeing deal with Vergennes police

FERRISBURGH — The Ferrisburgh selectboard will consider during its upcoming budget talks whether to propose spending up to $25,000 a year for 10 hours a week of service from the Vergennes Police Department, board members said at their Nov. 17 meeting.
Board members said they would make the decision to include that or a lesser amount in the 2016-2017 municipal budget after hearing from Vergennes City Manager Mel Hawley and Vergennes Police Chief George Merkel about what city police could offer Ferrisburgh.
As well as traffic control on Ferrisburgh’s 97 miles of roads, Merkel cited “community policing and everything else” and pointed to his department’s canine unit, its Drug Recognition Expert (who is trained to detect drivers under the influence of drugs), its ability to enforce commercial trucking laws, and its detective with drug investigation experience.
“This would be a good opportunity all the way around,” he said, while also emphasizing the close ties between the two communities.
If an agreement were reached between Ferrisburgh and Vergennes, Merkel said, the same dispatching system would be used and the Vermont State Police would remain the primary responders. If the city police were on duty, the dispatcher would know and inform them, he said.
The board had contacted Vergennes to see what its police department could provide. Board members at last week’s meeting said they were not completely satisfied with the service now provided by the Addison County Sheriff’s Department, but did not cite any specifics.
They said the town had been paying $25 an hour plus mileage to that sheriff’s department for up to 10 hours a week, but more recently had cut the hours back to three a week. According to town records, Ferrisburgh had spent $6,158 on the sheriff’s department in 2015 through this past Thursday morning and received $5,011 in ticket revenue.
Hawley said if Ferrisburgh wanted to use the city police department it would be billed at $48.10 per hour, a figure based on the force’s annual budget and its man-hours. No mileage or extra expenses would be added, he said, and the most hours the department could provide without increasing its budget would be 10 hours a week.
“I’m not here selling something,” Hawley said. “We’re not in the business of competing with the Addison County Sheriff’s Department. We’re not in the business of competing with the Vermont State Police. We have some capacity to provide some service to the town of Ferrisburgh.”
Ten hours a week for 52 weeks would translate to $25,012 per year, which is equal to the current line item in the Ferrisburgh budget for law enforcement, according to the selectboard last week. The town also hires sheriff’s deputies for traffic control for elections and other special events.
Ticket revenue would still accrue to Ferrisburgh if the town were to hire the Vergennes police, but Ferrisburgh Selectboard Chairman Steve Gutowski said cost and revenues should not be the only issues board members consider when making a decision.
“It’s a broader spectrum of services,” he said, adding, “Vergennes is basically in the middle of Ferrisburgh … There’s a lot more that could be offered than traffic.”
After hearing from Hawley and Merkel and discussing ticket revenue, the board reached a consensus to take up the question during their budget deliberations. The selectboard will meet in a special budget session on this Tuesday at 6 p.m.
“We should decide it when we do our budget,” said selectboard member Jim Warden.
As they can on any spending line item, town voters could always overrule the selectboard on Town Meeting Day if the board chooses to include funding in a budget proposal for Vergennes police protection.
Gutowski told Hawley and Merkel the board was not ready to decide last week.
“Whether we want to spend that much or spend less, we don’t know at this point,” Gutowski said.
Hawley said Vergennes, which is over budget in its police spending according to Hawley in his most recent report to the city council, would act as quickly as the town would like.
“If you’re interested, we’re here to help your before your new budget,” he said.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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