ST. ALBANS — The town selectboard members Monday reiterated their positions regarding the police services contract, an issue that is up for an advisory vote in two weeks.
Selectboard member Steve Coon began the discussion saying information coming out of a Wednesday, Nov. 13, special meeting — largely attended by the public interested in the policing issue — was misinterpreted in the local press. Beyond Northwest Access TV, which solely records public meetings, the Messenger was the only press present at that meeting.
“There has been some information I’ve seen out there, in the local press in particular, that I didn’t think was accurate,” Coon said Monday.
Coon said his stance on the issue — which on Wednesday, Nov. 13, was clearly in favor of hiring the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office (FCSO) instead of extending the current contract with St. Albans City — wasn’t about dissatisfaction with individual officers, but with the agreement as a whole.
“It’s not that we don’t value what the St. Albans Police Department does in our community,” Coon said Monday. “We definitely value what they’re doing. The question has been more about how thinly they’re spread.”
The difference between the two contracts in terms of manpower was again raised later in the meeting.
However, during the previous meeting, a major focus of the selectboard’s dissatisfaction with the current police contract with the city is the lack of local control over law enforcement.
In the Thursday, Nov. 14 edition of the Messenger, a story about the Wednesday, Nov. 13 meeting stated, “The problem, Coon reiterated, isn’t specifically with certain officers or the police department as a whole, but the system in which the town is paying for services that ultimately answer to another municipality.”
Coon said Monday that going with the sheriff’s office — voters in a single ballot item on Tuesday, Dec. 10, will be asked, yes or no, whether the selectboard should award that contract to the FCSO — is slightly more expensive than extending the city contract, but that expense is worth it.
The first two years of a contract with the sheriff’s office would come out to be $100,000 more than the city contract for each year.
On a $200,000 property, Coon said, the tax impact is about $2 more per month if the sheriff’s contract is selected. Town Clerk Anna Bourdon this morning confirmed that estimate. She said she figured the amount to come out to $26 a year, or $2.16 a month.
Compared to the previous selectboard meeting, which saw several residents commenting on the police services issues, and many who were left in standing-room-only, Monday’s meeting was sparsely attended.
Mitch Montagne, selectboard member Joe Montagne’s brother and a former selectboard chair, spoke first from the public on Monday. He said the board should look at the “whole picture” when it comes with dealing with the city and what agreements have cost town taxpayers.
“I don’t think we’ve had very good luck with contracts with the city,” Mitch Montagne said. He referred to the water and sewer issues between the town and city, and mentioned lost business investments in the town due to that problem. “After awhile it doesn’t feel right. It doesn’t feel good.”
Another former selectboard chairman, Paul Larner, returned Monday to argue for extending the city contract. Larner was one of the more vocal members of the public at the previous meeting.
Larner argued that a contract with the sheriff wouldn’t necessarily mean more law enforcement manpower in the town, which was one of the stance’s current board members have taken in positioning themselves in favor of the sheriff. He also suggested the town’s current coverage, which the St. Albans Police Department provides by splitting up the town and city in four zones that are staffed according to activity level, is adequate.
“I disagree with that,” said Joe Montagne. Montagne and Larner went back and forth without coming to an agreement as to whether Kellogg Road is appropriately patrolled. Montagne, who lives on Kellogg Road, said he never sees a police presence there and with some motorists speeding, he said he’s worried about the safety on that road.
Coon also rebutted Larner’s estimation that the sheriff wouldn’t provide less coverage. He said the sheriff’s proposal outlines a staffing schedule that puts two men on duty during peak times for law enforcement calls. The sheriff’s proposal does show that two deputies would be on duty in town every night of the week from 10:30 p.m. to 6 a.m.
Revisiting his dissatisfaction with the current police contract, Coon said when he, chairman Bernie Boudreau and board member Brent Palmer were first elected to the board in 2012, St. Albans Police Chief Gary Taylor was invited to a meeting to discuss the law enforcement coverage. Coon said the board asked Taylor for information about police response, patrolling coverage and other numbers related to the town and city contract.
“We didn’t get the responses or the accountability,” Coon said Monday. “We believe if we do not have a better relationship than we currently have had in last two-and-a-half years, then we’re not going to get a significant improvement in quality of law enforcement.”
Following the Wednesday, Nov. 13 meeting, Taylor responded to the issues brought up by selectboard members. He said, in the Nov. 14 edition of the Messenger, that he was only invited once to a selectboard meeting, which was that first meeting in 2012 that Coon mentioned.
Taylor had also reiterated that his department records almost every level of police activity in the town and city, and he’s happy to show that information if it’s requested.