SHAFTSBURY -- First Constable Paul McGann suggested on Monday that Shaftsbury could save as much as $13,000 per year by using constables for law enforcement, rather than the sheriff's department.
McGann's report, presented as part of the "budget workshops" that the Select Board has been hosting each Monday, focused on the fact that Shaftsbury pays the Bennington County Sheriff's Department approximately $26,000 per year for 20 hours of coverage each week. While he acknowledged that his list of expenses wasn't exhaustive, McGann said he believed that the town could save significant money going forward by giving constables law enforcement capabilities instead of contracting out to the sheriff.
The town first debated the switch at the Oct. 7 meeting. Sheriff Chad Schmidt was in attendance and said that if Shaftsbury gave its constables jurisdiction in matters that were traditionally considered "law enforcement," the sheriff's department would not renew its contract with the town, citing the confusion caused by conflicting jurisdictions. McGann was critical of this approach on Monday, saying, "I was given an ultimatum, and so was the board; all or nothing."
McGann argued that including startup costs in the first year would include uniforms, a car, badges, and radios. McGann is a full-time certified police officer, and Second Constable Robert Perry is working on getting his part-time certification. In the scenario that McGann proposed, he and Perry would split the 20 hours of coverage each week. McGann hoped the number of hours would increase after the first year, when the town would no longer have to budget for startup costs.
McGann and Perry currently own guns and holsters, which would save the town money in the short term. However, town would eventually have to purchase firearms, as well as provide training for any new constables. "If we're making a move, it has to be a move for the position, not the individual," said select board chairperson Karen Mellinger.
Selectman Tim Scoggins expressed concern that a lot of this discussion is made possible by McGann's presence as first constable, which was not guaranteed in the future. While he acknowledged, "we love Paul," he warned that McGann had law enforcement training and experience, and that it would be costly to train future constables.
McGann said that any time the sheriff's deputies spend in the town outside of the 20 hours that the town contracts would be worth time and a half.
"I heard the Sheriff say, ‘I can do whatever you want us to do,' but what he didn't say is that it's gonna cost you," said McGann.
Scoggins expressed doubt about this, as he thought the sheriff had implied the town could have as many $25 hours as they needed.
In a phone interview, Schmidt confirmed that the town would only be charged the negotiated fee, in this case $25 per hour, in that scenario, adding that he would give the town the option of taking the hours out of the next week's pool of hours, so as not to overspend the town's budget. "If I have to pay any of my guys overtime, that comes out of my pocket," said Schmidt.
Vice Chairman Carl Korman said that he was torn on the issue. "I know, I'm very conflicted," said Korman, "Hearing what the Sheriff had to say, and how he said it, was very disturbing to me."
McGann is looking at the possibility of acquiring a 1998 Ford Crown Victoria from a police department in New Hampshire. He said that while the car has 100,000 miles on it, it is very well maintained and "looks like new." The Crown Vic, as it is commonly called, is one of the most popular law enforcement vehicles in America.
Mellinger acknowledged that this was "a very big discussion for the town," and said the board would need to do a lot more research into potential costs before it comes to a decision. "There are a lot of unknowns, depending on the direction we want to go in," she said. She also noted that the town would need to vote on the issue.
The town signed a new six-month contract with the sheriff's department in November, with the idea that this would leave open the possibility of giving the constables law enforcement authority. The topic will likely be a major issue at Town Meeting in March.
Derek Carson can be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @DerekCarsonBB