MANCHESTER -- Now it’s the consultant’s turn, or soon will be.
The public safety consolidation study was started with the signing of a memorandum or understanding between Dorset and Manchester in late November. From there, a working group was formed of government and public safety officials from each town and department -- fire, rescue and police -- and learn about the functions of each town’s emergency services. Now, the group is sending out requests for proposals and will hire a consulting firm or academic institution to conduct the study.
In the November meeting of both towns, Rob Gaiotti, the Dorset town manager, said the towns are tasked with providing municipal services on a tight budget. State wide property taxes under Act 60 and 68 do not just put pressure on the schools, but also on the select boards, he said in the meeting.
"The education property tax numbers in Manchester and Dorset alone are around $15 or $16 million, are above and beyond...it puts downward pressure on municipal budgets," he said in the meeting. "With that thought, this is part of the genesis for the project."
Many have also said that the idea behind the study also comes from a series of burglaries in Dorset in 2012 and 2013.
The public safety consolidation study, however, sparked some debate during Town Meeting in both towns. In Manchester, an article was placed on the warning as a way to get a feel for how the town felt about this study, John O’Keefe, Manchester town manager said.
"I think putting it on our town meeting agenda warning was brilliant," O’Keefe said. "Town Meeting overwhelmingly voted to move forward with the study."
Some of the questions raised during Manchester’s town meeting involved why Manchester is paying more for the study and how will this study be beneficial to the town, when it has been driven by the needs of Dorset. There was also concern about past studies in relation to the consolidation of schools that fell apart between the two towns.
O’Keefe said he welcomes any and all debate and that both sides need to be heard. He said he felt the questions raised were all valid and needed to be asked. "I thought it [questions asked at Town Meeting] really moved the ball forward," he said.
At Dorset’s Town Meeting, there was not an article placed on the warning to discuss the question. Instead, Chris Brooks, the chairman of the select board, made a short presentation to let Dorset voters know what has been going on during the public safety consolidation study meetings. Rob Gaiotti, Dorset town manager, said the issue was briefly discussed and supported. However, as in Manchester, he said there are some people who are either questioning the study or opposed to it.
Brooks said when he made the presentation, he wanted the people of Dorset to know the answers to some of the questions won’t come until after the study has been finished.
He said both towns are fiscally conservative and want to find efficiencies, or better ways to provide services to residents. This sentiment was echoed by O’Keefe.
For Brooks, the challenge comes with the consolidation aspect of the study.
"Once we’re linked, it is very difficult to separate," he said. "Everybody on this committee, they check their ego at the door. Everyone is giving up a little bit of authority to make us safer."
One of the concerns Manchester resident’s voiced at Town Meeting was the idea of this study being driven by problems in Dorset and their need for more police protection. Dorset currently has a contract with the Vermont State Police out of the Shaftsbury Barracks.
Brooks said the committee is looking at what is good for both towns.
"We have to study this...[but] it may be that we shouldn’t [consolidate]."