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Moretown drops sheriff's department contract

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01/07/2010

By Kara Herlihy

Moretown's former and current first constables, Ray Munn and Eric Howes, expressed their concerns Monday night about the town's decision to not renew the law enforcement contract with the Washington County Sheriff's Department.

The board took that testimony at its regular meeting on January 4.

Select board members recently decided to drop the $10,000 contract with the sheriff's department from the budget and allocated an additional $2,000 to the constable's budget for a total of $4,000 designated for local law enforcement.

In a newsletter to townspeople, select board member Dave Van Deusen called the dropped contract a "budget saving measure."

DID NOT JUSTIFY EXPENSE

"In recognition that the select board, and therefore the town of Moretown, had very little say regarding when, how and where the sheriffs patrol, in the end we felt that the money we have been spending on this service in the last few years did not justify the expense," he wrote.

Washington County Sheriff Sam Hill said it was his understanding that the town's cancellation of their contract was based purely on financial and budget concerns.

"We added and subtracted patrol time based on budget financial needs, rotated our patrol to weekends when they were having weekend problems, tried to help with ATV problems, put extra patrol on those roads, discussed the possibility of night patrols," he said.

NOT UNEXPECTED

Upon learning that the Moretown Select Board was not renewing their contract, Hill said, "It was surprising but not unexpected." Hill added that if in the future the town can afford to renew their contract they would be more than willing to accommodate them.

This week Munn told town officials that as of July 2010 state statutes will change and essentially strip constables of any powers of enforcement without the required 186 hours of training to become a part-time police officer.

Moretown resident Hoover Austin said, "I don't see us spending money on our own police force. I think you'd be better off getting a speed trailer. That's more effective than anything."

LACK OF ENFORCEMENT

Current first constable Eric Howes told select board members that the "lack of contract with the sheriff's department concerns me" and said that he wasn't sure if the $4,000 would be well spent given the impending lack of enforcement power of locally elected constables.

"In July 2010, the laws are going to change; the current state statutes provide some, but you face serious liability if you pull someone over without proper certification," Howes said.

Select board member Stephanie Venema told Howes that the additional $2,000 wasn't intended to "pump up the constable's budget; we needed a place to put the extra money."

DRAFTING A SPECIFIC CONTRACT

Howes asked whether the town would consider drafting a specific contract with the sheriff's department that outlined the needs and requests of the select board regarding patrol times, locations and schedules.

Town officials said they have made similar requests to the sheriff's department previously and they have refused to commit to their specified routes and schedules but have patrolled areas of town concern in the past.

Howes will not seek re-election as first constable in 2010, leaving at least one vacancy with a possibility of two. The first and second constable have nearly identical responsibilities with one exception: The first constable may act as tax collector if necessary, while the second cannot.

EXTENDING TERM LENGTH

Munn suggested that town officials consider extending the term length for constables from one year to two years. Training to become a part-time police officer takes one year to complete, he said.

Select board chair Rae Washburn also announced that he will not seek re-election in March 2010. Community members and fellow town officials applauded Washburn's years of service and thanked him for his work.

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