ST. ALBANS — The St. Albans Town Selectboard asked voters for their input in deciding the next police services contract, and on Tuesday residents overwhelmingly rejected a board backed plan to switch law enforcement agencies.
In a special election, 742 voters cast ballots on the question of whether Franklin County Sheriff’s Office patrols should replace those provided by the St. Albans Police Department (SAPD).
More than 60 percent of those going to the polls voted against a contract with the sheriff’s office, which had for years provided those services prior to the 2011, three-year agreement with the city.
The vote was 461 no to 281 yes, said Town Clerk Anna Bourdon. Ballots were cast yesterday by 16.8 percent of eligible voters. Bourdon this morning said, “I thought it was a high turnout for a special election.”
The town has had three special elections since 2000, all related to schools. Turnout ranged from 23 voters in 2004 to 443 for a school budget revote in 2001.
While the vote is purely advisory and the final decision rests with the selectboard, a few board members stated this fall that they planned on making their decision whatever way the town voted.
The selectboard has until the end of the year to notify St. Albans City regarding a one year contract extension costing $565,021. The sheriff’s proposal came in at $684,0658 for the first year of the proposed three-year contract.
Thus far, the final selectboard meeting of 2013 is scheduled for Monday, Dec. 23.
State statute allows secret deliberations regarding contracts but a final selectboard vote on a motion to authorize one must be made in a public session.
Taking into account differences in dispatching services — the city contract essentially provides free dispatching; the sheriff’s contract does not include ambulance dispatching — the total cost difference between the first two years of a new sheriff’s contract and two, one year extensions with the city was $200,000, with the sheriff’s office costing more.
Although voters on Tuesday backed the SAPD extension option, the selectboard has to make a decision in an atmosphere of strained relations with St. Albans City. At a Nov. 13 special selectboard meeting, board members Steve Coon and Brent Palmer explained their dissatisfaction with the town’s law enforcement contract with the city. Questions about the amount of coverage the town received and the working relationship between the two municipalities were two key points the selectmen brought up at that meeting.
St. Albans Police Chief Gary Taylor and City Manager Dominic Cloud, have expressed disappointment in the actions taken by the selectboard since the town began exploring potential options for its next police services contract.
After contracting the Vermont League of Cities and Towns (VLTC) to conduct a policing needs study, the town sent a request for proposals (RFP) to the sheriff’s office and two municipal police departments (Swanton Village and Milton), but not to the city.
Instead of sending a new RFP to the city, town selectboard members, including chairman Bernie Boudreau, said they were comfortable looking at other options while leaving the city’s extension option on the table.
Cloud alleged that put the city at a disadvantage because the request for new contract proposals was based on the recent VLTC study.
Contacted this morning, Cloud had no comment on the Tuesday vote result. On the run-up to yesterday’s vote and in response to selectboard criticisms, Taylor had defended his department’s service to the town but no elected official in the city had commented.
After a former town selectboard in 2011 awarded the contract to St. Albans City, 2012’s newly elected board members Boudreau, Coon and Palmer said they wanted voters to have a say when it came to the town’s next police services contract. Boudreau and Palmer have said they would base their police services contract decision on the results of Tuesday’s vote.
Boudreau refused to issue a comment about the vote this morning.
– — –
Messenger Staff Writer Michelle Monroe contributed to this report.