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City police costs in line with other communities

“If it is an apples-to-apples comparison, Vergennes is not out of line.”
— Interim Vergennes City Manager Renny Perry

VERGENNES — Contrary to a widely publicized University of Vermont report released this summer, per capita spending on the Vergennes Police Department is comparable to that of other Vermont communities, according to an analysis performed by current City Councilor and former Vergennes City Manager Mel Hawley.
Interim Vergennes City Manager Renny Perry announced Hawley’s findings at Tuesday’s council meeting.
“If it is an apples-to-apples comparison, Vergennes is not out of line,” Perry said.
Hawley also shared with the Independent his analysis and a series of emails with the researchers at the UVM Legislative Intern and Policy Center who prepared the Vermont Town Police Spending Report.
That report concluded Vergennes is spending $341 per capita on its police department, one of the highest numbers in Vermont.
It also compared Vergennes unfavorably to Middlebury ($194 per capita), Bristol ($120 per capita) and Brattleboro ($188 per capita).
But by Hawley’s calculations, Vergennes’ per capita number is $195, when using the same criteria as the researchers used for Middlebury and Brattleboro.
Hawley focused his research specifically on those three communities, the first two because they are in the county and the third, Brattleboro, because like Vergennes it sits astride major transportation routes.
The central problem he found in UVM researchers’ approach to Middlebury and Brattleboro is that those towns do not include many of the same things as Vergennes in their police budgets.
In his email to the researchers, he wrote:
“The MPD budget for FY2021 is $1,722,824 ($203 per capita), but that figure does not include employee benefits, workers’ compensation. property and liability insurance, or capital improvements.
The VPD budget for FY2021 is  $853,347. Of that amount, employee benefits including workers’ compensation premiums, property and liability insurance premiums, capital purchases, and bond interest, equals $347,476.  So the apples-to-apples comparison with MPD is $505,871 ($195 per capita).
“The Town of Brattleboro uses the same budgeting practices as Middlebury, which drives their per capita cost to below $200,” Hawley said.
One of the researchers, Katie Wynn, responded:
“Thank you for bringing this to our attention. Our numbers are drawn solely from what town reports allocate to police services in their line-item budgets. If benefits are handled elsewhere, that information would not be represented in our report, as it was ultimately not what we were pinpointing or seeking to represent in our data collection.”
Hawley wrote the issue in Bristol is simpler. The Bristol Police Department covers only the village, but in determining the per capita cost of the department, researchers divided the police budget by the number of residents in the entire town.
“Your report uses 3,914 for population when it’s roughly half that number,” Hawley wrote to the researchers.
Hawley acknowledges his calculations don’t include a $72,500 annual bond payment made on the city’s new police station. But he noted neither Middlebury nor Brattleboro include capital expenses in their police budgets. 
Perry and Hawley said regardless of the per capita numbers, the police budget — like that of any other city department — should be scrutinized for potential savings by the city council and residents.
“I have no problem having a conversation about what we spend on police,” Hawley said on Wednesday.
Perry said at Tuesday’s meeting the numbers don’t mean the council won’t take a hard look at police spending.
“It does mean the Vergennes Police Department has been unfairly treated by that kind of writing,” he said.

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