Sheriff pitches services to Ferrisburgh
FERRISBURGH — Two weeks after Vergennes officials met with the Ferrisburgh selectboard to discuss providing city police service to the town, on Tuesday Addison County Sheriff Don Keeler told the board he believed his department could do the same job for less money.
Keeler also said he wished the board had contacted him previously to clear up its questions about his department’s performance in speed control and willingness to work nights.
But Keeler said he now welcomed the opportunity to come in and explain what the Addison County Sheriff’s Department could do for Ferrisburgh.
“My door is always open. Was I happy I read in the paper you weren’t happy with our services? No. But I put my big-boy pants on,” Keeler said. “I would compete against any police department.”
Keeler touted the Addison County Special Investigations Unit, which works out of his department and specializes in cases of sexual abuse and assault; his department’s record of traffic enforcement, including so far in 2015 generating more than $193,000 of ticket revenue to the 17 towns with which it contracts; and what he said was the overall level of training and commitment of the department’s 22 members.
“I’m not here on behalf of myself,” Keeler said. “What I’m doing is on behalf of them.”
Keeler said the contract price for the sheriff’s department’s services would be $27 an hour. Vergennes offered its police service for $48.10 an hour, a figure based on its annual budget and the number of non-grant-funded hours its officers worked.
On Nov. 17, city officials estimated 10-hour-a-week coverage from the Vergennes Police Department coverage would cost about $25,000 a year. Ten hours a week at $27 per hour would translate to about $14,000.
Regardless, Vermont State Police will remain the primary responder for incidents in Ferrisburgh, and Vergennes police often assist if VSP are tied up elsewhere or need backup.
Keeler pointed to the costs of the new Vergennes police station, compared to his department’s Middlebury headquarters.
“The county provided me with a building,” he said. “I don’t need $49 an hour to make it work.”
Keeler also said Vergennes might have trouble living up to a contract with Ferrisburgh if one of the city officers left the force, while his department of 22 would be able to fulfill any agreement.
“I can take care of the contract because I have enough personnel,” he said.
Ferrisburgh budgeted $25,000 for law enforcement for the current fiscal year. According to town records, Ferrisburgh had spent $6,158 on the sheriff’s department in 2015 through Nov. 19 and received $5,011 in total ticket revenue from all sources. Town spending on the department included non-contract money for traffic control for three elections; contracted spending was less than the ticket revenue.
Keeler said that although ticket revenue has “pretty much tracked” with the number of hours his department’s deputies have worked, that revenue collection was not the goal of speed enforcement and that only those who deserved tickets received them.
“It was never intended the people of your town would have free law enforcement,” he said.
Board chairman Steve Gutowski said board members, now in the middle of crafting the town’s 2016-2017 budget, would not make their decision solely based on cost and revenue, but rather look at service levels.
Gutowski said the question was if Keeler’s department could provide a strong level of service.
“Are we a full-service organization? Absolutely,” Keeler said, adding later, “If there is something Vergennes can do we can’t do, I’d like someone to tell me.”
At the selectboard’s Nov. 17 meeting, board members hinted at some dissatisfaction with the sheriff’s department, but said nothing concrete. The contract had been cut to 12 hours a month in December 2014, according to selectboard minutes.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Selectman Jim Warden, also the Shelburne police chief, said there had been concerns in the past that traffic control had been lax, while also stating he believed things had improved under Keeler.
“We were doing it and got one or two tickets a day,” Warden said. “It’s a plus the way it’s done now.”
Keeler said the 17 towns that contract with his department have realized more than $193,000 of ticket revenue so far in 2015.
Warden said that in some previous years eight-hour shifts in Ferrisburgh would result in no tickets, but Keeler answered that is no longer the case.
“If you did that for me and didn’t write a ticket, you’d be looking for a job,” Keeler said.
Warden and Keeler also cleared up a misconception.
“We were told you were off the road by 7 (p.m.),” Warden said.
Keeler said the department, although it has often covered daytime hours to patrol and protect empty homes from burglaries, already works evenings and nights in some towns.
“We can do that,” Keeler responded. “You want us to work nights, we can work nights.”
Sheriff’s department Sgt. Bruce Nason also attended the meeting and said he would work with Ferrisburgh officials to make sure patrols met the town’s needs, adding that he would schedule personnel to rotate to Ferrisburgh from nearby towns to minimize travel costs.
Keeler said Town Clerk Gloria Warden should serve as a liaison to let his department know if there were any hot spots needing speed control.
“Do you not get a response from my staff?” Keeler asked the clerk, and after she said yes, he added, “She’s here, and she’s the one people should call.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].