BENNINGTON -- After more than a decade, the local police force will see its ranks swell by one.
The patrol officer position was authorized by the Select Board in the late 1990s, said Bennington Police Chief Paul Doucette at a budget workshop session held Saturday, but after it was approved the purse strings had to be tightened and the job became "frozen." After his presentation, the board voted unanimously to "thaw" the position.
The board has scheduled two more budget work sessions, but may approved a draft sooner. The draft must then be voted on at a regular board meeting so it can go before voters in March.
It total, the police budget for this coming year is $3,321,080, a 3-percent increase over last year.
Most of that is because of contractual salary increases. The new patrol officer will increase the budget by $44,000, which includes benefits. Also factored into that number is a reduction in the amount of overtime costs the department expects to pay. Doucette said the additional officer will allow the department to budget nine percent in overtime, where it is now budgeted at 11 percent which is the state average.
The department employs 26 officers, counting Doucette and Lt. Lloyd Dean. In recent years a great deal of an officer's time has been taken up by paperwork which is needed to secure grants.
Grants such as the one he intends to apply toward replacing the department's communication console, the total cost of which is approximately $130,000. Doucette said he applied for a grant through the Department of Homeland Security and received confirmation that the town has been awarded $83,000 to go towards a new communication console.
"We have struggled for a number of years now with our radio system over at the police department," Doucette said. "The console needs to be replaced." Repairs have been made to it numerous times over the years, but a full solution is due. "Consoles are good for about 10 to 12 years," Doucette said. "Our console has currently outlived its life expectancy." The police department has also budgeted $54,450 to replace one of its Chevrolet Tahoe sport utility vehicles, as well as the detective's vehicle which of late has been needing repairs frequently. Doucette said police vehicles need replacing every few years because they idle for long periods of time and are frequently used.
He also asked $10,000 be put into a line item that would now total $31,000 which will be used to pay for an engineering review of the police station's heating, ventilation, and air conditioning system (HVAC). The station is a former post office and there were concerns when the department moved into it about the HVAC system, but so far it has been workable, Doucette said. Even so, it has come time to review it. On the plus side, the department was able to save $10,000 in heating fuel this year because of price decreases.
The Bennington Fire Department also presented its budget at the workshop, and according to Deputy Chief Jeff Vickers it is down 1.8 percent, mainly because payments are no longer owed on its ladder truck.
Town Manager Stuart Hurd said a new fire truck the department has purchased will not show up on the budget until next year, which will coincide with the last payment for the fire facility in River Street.
Vickers said the department is budgeting to replace some of its pagers which no longer meet federal requirements in regards to radio bands. The departments air pack units are also on a replacement cycle, but often new models come out with better safety features and parts are no longer made for the older types.
Contact Keith Whitcomb Jr. at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @KWhitcombjr.