In the wake of a loss of tax revenues from the pending closure of the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant, voters in the town of Vernon have approved eliminating the local police force.
A special Town Meeting was held Monday evening in Vernon, Vermont, to continue discussion on a petition calling for the elimination of the town’s police department. Voters decided 244 to 181 to dissolve the department and contract police services to the Windham County Sheriff’s Department.
Brattleboro Reformer Reporter Mike Faher has been writing about the struggles Vernon is encountering as it faces the loss of half of it’s municipal tax base, which comes from Vermont Yankee. “Yankee is closing at the end of the year. The selectboard has an agreement for one year with the owner of the plant to sort-of stabilize the tax revenue. But after that it’s a big question as to what the town’s budget is going to look like. So they’re looking for ways to cut costs. I think that was a big driver behind the initial vote at Town Meeting in March to cut the police department. When you look at the proposals that were laid out at the meeting last evening it was you can have the town police department for 140 hours a week or you could have the sheriff’s department for more hours a week for less money. One of the residents called it a no brainer.”
Selectboard Chair Patty O’Donnell says the Town of Vernon faces $400,000 in cuts even before eliminating the police department. “Right now we’re on the doorstep of losing half of our town revenue. So what people in the town are trying to do is figure out how we can keep as many of the services as we have, but do it in a more financially responsible way. And that’s a lot of what happened last night. We can actually contract with the sheriff’s department for more duty hours than we had with our police department for $80,000 less...$70,000 in the original budget and then we lose 10,000 in liability and car insurance for our own cars. So I think people looked at the bottom line and said we can still keep public safety, but we can do it and save some money.”
In Vermont, sheriffs do not receive direct funding from the county for patrol purposes. Smaller towns can contract for that service. Windham County Sheriff Keith Clark currently provides contract patrols of various levels to fifteen different communities. “The difference is economy of scale. They don’t have to pay for a police chief because I provide that through my office. I already have supervisors. Because I buy in larger quantities I tend to get a discount that smaller departments may not be able to get. So that’s how I can save money and provide the same level of service at a lesser cost.”
Sheriff Clark believes Vernon is indicative of the future of law enforcement in Vermont. “Communities are starting to realize that they need policing but may not necessarily be able to afford their own police department and through a regional or county-based approach they can get really good service at an affordable cost without having to rely necessarily on the State Police or a larger state agency.”
The Vernon Police Department will cease operations on July 1st.