SHAFTSBURY -- The Town of Shaftsbury's Select Board voted to renew its contract with the Bennington County Sheriff's Department on Monday, for the same number of hours per week as the previous contract.
The new contract will run through June 30, the end of Shaftsbury's fiscal year 2014.
Sheriff Chad D. Schmidt was in attendance for the vote, which passed unanimously, 5-0.
When the last contract was signed, Shaftsbury had been awarded a COPS grant, which allowed the town to receive 20 hours per week of coverage from the sheriff's department, while only paying for 16. The COPS grant expires on Nov. 30, along with the sheriff's current contract, meaning the town budget would only allow for 16 hours per week going forward.
The town had considered giving its two constables -- currently Paul McGann and Robert Perry -- law enforcement authority to make up the gap in funding, but Schmidt maintained that it was his department's policy not to enter into contracts with towns that gave their constables that authority. While the issue of the constables has not yet been decided, the board seemed open to giving the constables civil authority, which Schmidt said would not interfere with his department.
The Select Board discussed renewing the contract for 16 hours per week, instead of 20, but board member Tim Scoggins thought that that wasn't enough. "I don't hear any outcry from the public for less law enforcement," citing the 18 break-ins in the past year, a record for Shaftsbury.
"There isn't any community here that hasn't had trouble with burglaries," said Carl Korman in agreement.
The board elected to renew the contract at 20 hours per week, despite knowing that would put the police budget over what the Select Board had decided on in March.
Schmidt noted that the rise in burglaries over the past several years has coincided with the increase in Bennington County's drug problem. The sheriff's department participated in Operation County Strike 2 in Sept., which saw more than 40 suspected drug dealers taken into custody.
Derek Carson can be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @DerekCarsonBB.