IAN LORD, Messenger file photo
ST. ALBANS — The Town of St. Albans has released a study conducted by the Vermont League of Cities and Towns (VLTC) to determine the municipality’s law enforcement needs.
After awarding the town’s law enforcement coverage contract to the St. Albans City Police Department in 2011, town officials late this year will face the decision of whether to stay with the current police coverage or look at other options.
The review, conducted by VLCT analyst and former Williston Police Chief Doug Hoyt, is the first step the town is taking to implement a new law enforcement contract.
Town Manager Carrie Johnson said the review cost about $4,000, which was taken from funds set aside for consultations.
While the review was primarily based on past crime data and law enforcement needs, the conclusion states that anticipated growth will increase the demand for services. Town Manager Carrie Johnson acknowledged that the development surrounding the incoming Walmart store will play a part for whatever agency is contracted to cover the Town.
“It’s hard to predict the future,” she said. “I think we’re aware that there’s going to be some challenges. It’s definitely part of the bigger picture.”
Johnson mentioned that Hoyt was the Williston police chief when their Walmart was constructed, but this review looks at an entirely different community in St. Albans.
The VLTC review highlights and compares crime statistics in St. Albans, Franklin County and comparable communities throughout the state, using different measures to calculate law enforcement need.
Hoyt is careful to highlight that law enforcement needs are better measured by looking both at incidents police responded to and actual verified crimes. He said in the review that because of different factors, sometimes police responses require more time than incidents that lead to criminal investigations or arrests.
A majority of the crime data in the study is derived from 2010, when the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office held a contract with the town for full coverage. The VLTC review also looked at incident reports based on time of day, showing that the evening and afternoon hours were often busier for law enforcement.
Johnson said that the town would use Hoyt’s findings to develop a request for proposal (RFP) that should be completed and released within a few weeks. In Hoyt’s review, the VLTC provided a sample RFP that will have to be made specific to the town.
Based on past law enforcement activity in St. Albans Town, Hoyt’s review determined that continuing 24-hour coverage was appropriate, and suggested the town take into account the anticipated growth from the growth district established along Route 7-North.
The VLTC is helping the town develop an RFP, which will be sent out to other area agencies in order to come up with a plan and budget for providing police coverage in the town.
Johnson said town officials would have to account for a law enforcement line item in the upcoming town budget. Like 2011, the contract will most likely be awarded in January 2014 in order to have a budget item prepared for Town Meeting Day in March.
“It will play a part in our budget, clearly,” Johnson said. She said that with the exception of the Public Works Department budget the town’s law enforcement line item is one of the largest costs to taxpayers.
In 2011, the town paid St. Albans City $486,851 for services provided by what had been its police department alone. That number increased each fiscal year, to $508,465 from July 1, 2012 to July 1, 2013 and $513,604 from July 1, 2013 to July 1, 2014, when the city contract runs out.
Johnson said the town does have the option to extend the city contract on a year-by-year basis, with the cost increasing each year.
The St. Albans Police Department hired three fulltime officers in 2011 to account for the 24-hour-a-day coverage of St. Albans Town.
The town’s contract with the city proved contentious during the last round of bidding for St. Albans’ police services. The Franklin County Sheriff’s Office sued the city saying its bid did not reflect actual costs and was an attempt to create a \ police services monopoly. The city’s bid came in $100,000 less than the FCSO’s proposal. The sheriff’s claim was denied in Superior Court, and again by the Vermont Supreme Court
While the current law enforcement contract “has been working adequately,” according to Johnson, she said the town would be diligent in looking at what the best options for the town are. She said while developing the RFP, she and other officials are determining what steps to take next.