By Kara Herlihy
Town officials in Moretown are still considering contracting with the Washington County Sheriff's Department. Select board members added $2,500 to the constable budget at their January 11 meeting, bringing the total budget to $5,500. In addition, they discussed adding a special article asking residents to approve $4,500 for law enforcement from the floor on Town Meeting day.
If the article passes, the total $10,000 allotted for law enforcement would allow the town to renew its contract with the sheriff's department. Select board chair Rae Washburn asked fellow town officials for their input following a previous decision to not renew the contract due to budgetary concerns.
Select board member Stephanie Venema said she was "very worried" about the potential lack of police presence in Moretown but was not crazy about the idea of including a special article.
"Not everybody has the same needs and I think we, as a board, are responsible for the safety of the town."
In previous years the town has budgeted $10,000 to contract with the Washington County Sheriff's Department who bills the town for the hours that sheriff's deputies patrol; the allocated funds aren't paid out at once.
UPGRADING THE CONSTABLE
Moretown Planning Commission member Don LaRocca asked select board members about the possibility of increasing the role of the town's elected constables.
"What is the fee for upgrading the constable?" LaRocca asked.
Washburn said that there is no guarantee that once the constable goes through the required training that they will be elected to the one-year term.
As of July 2010 state statutes will change and essentially strip constables of any powers of enforcement without the required 186 hours of training to become a part-time police officer.
"As a citizen I am more inclined to be in favor of a constable. I think a constable is a great thing and we should encourage it one way or another. He's local, he's part of the community and he has empathy, and the sheriff is looked at as another bureaucratic entity trying to ruin our day," LaRocca said.
Venema said she questioned the feasibility of upgrading the constables, given the number of hours required to become certified.
Select board assistant Cheryl Brown told town officials that she knows of a few residents planning to run for first and second constable.
Venema said, "I would like to see a good discussion on this and tonight would have been a good night to do that, but nobody is here."
"We do have an obligation to public safety," she continued.
Select board member John Hoogenboom said, "It's about the presence, not necessarily increasing the hours. It's about having someone out there."
Select board members decided to increase the constable's budget to $5,500 and include the special article for $4,500 to be voted on from the floor. The town's budget is still preliminary as it has yet to be approved by the select board.