BRISTOL — As divided as it was, Monday’s annual meeting of the Bristol Police District in Holley Hall was a testament to the effectiveness of democracy in a small-town setting. The 2010-2011 fiscal year police spending plan of $337,322 was passed by a thin margin of 19-16 in a paper ballot vote.
According to numbers provided by Town Administrator Bill Bryant, the just-adopted police budget marks a 7 percent decrease in spending from the $362,653 budgeted for this year, and it requires 3.3 percent less from taxpayers — $294,222 in the coming year compared with $304,403 for the current year.
The primary causes of this decrease were attributed to a $31,025 reduction in spending on full-time labor, mainly due to officer Ed Shepard’s disability leave, and the omission of grants from the budget — a new selectboard procedure that separates grant funding from budgets — for programs like “Click It or Ticket” and the “Stop Teen Alcohol Risk Team.”
Bryant strongly urged Bristol residents at Monday’s meeting to support the budget, which he said was tight all around and included salaries that aren’t even competitive with police departments in other towns.
But, many residents still had reservations about the budget. The primary concern voiced by residents was that the 3.5 percent pay raise worked into the budget for full-time officers was too high. Some residents explained that many people are going through tough economic times and that this salary increase did not align with the community’s current economic status.
Selectboard chairman Joel Bouvier explained that the 3.5 percent pay raise would not necessarily be spread ubiquitously across the department. While one officer might get a 3.5 percent pay increase, he said, another might get much less. He further clarified that the budget was accepted by the selectboard, but that certain portions of the budget such as pay raises would be determined in the future.
“I support the budget. Do I support 3.5 percent pay raises? No,” said Bouvier. “It’s just a number that we put in (the budget) to support the whole department.”
Christopher Perkett, the deputy state’s attorney for Addison County, also strongly urged voters to pass the budget that he felt was already far too slim for public good.
“I think your selectboard members (and Police Chief Kevin Gibbs) put together a very lean budget this year … As I’m reading through this thing, I’m not exactly sure how that budget that they put together is going to be workable,” he said. “A year ago this was a four-man department and I’m going to have to disagree respectfully with your town selectboard when they say that they think they can do (an adequate job) with three … I think that you need a four-person team … at some point you get battle fatigue.”
The three-officer budget barely slipped by wary voters and will take effect on July 1.
“There’s not much more leanness you can get out of that budget,” said Bryant after the meeting.
LOOKING TO THE FUTURE
After the budget passed, residents expressed concern that the future of the police force, including its headquarters and equipment, was not being planned for effectively.
The police offices on South Street are leased to the town by David Henderson for what Bryant explained was a vastly reduced rate of $600 a month. Although this is currently saving taxpayers money, some residents said they were concerned that this situation will not last. Some called for a permanent fix.
“Bristol needs to solve its public safety facility needs for both its fire department and police department,” said Bryant.
He explained that it was previously at the top of the selectboard agenda before Holley Hall was renovated and that the selectboard is actively engaged in finding a solution.
“It’s going to be a tough one. How do you afford it? We have a lot of needs, but we also want to contain the tax rate,” said Bryant. “It’s a lot to think about, and it’s encouraging that people at the meeting recognized that need.”
Officer Randy Crowe also explained that several years ago Chief Gibbs added a section of the budget to prepare for future issues, but that voters shot it down.
In other news from the meeting:
• Voters at the meeting also approved the proposed water department spending plan for FY 2010-2011 of $260,700, and the sewer department spending plan of $35,056, which reflects a 10 percent hike in rates.
• Rick Kehne, senior transportation planner of the Addison County Regional Planning Commission, and consultant Corey Mack of the Resource Systems Group of White River Junction held a local concerns meeting about a “Pedestrian Feasibility Study” that will be conducted this summer to provide the town with options for constructing a pedestrian path between Rockydale Gardens and the center of Bristol.
• Assistant Fire Chief Brett Larose presented a grant application for $23,504 to replace the department’s base radio and other equipment. The good news is that “no matching funds are required from our town,” he said. The selectboard approved the application and it will be submitted to the Vermont Homeland Security Unit.
• Chairman of the Police Advisory Committee Jimmy Quaglino presented awards to police officer Ed Shepard for 38 years of service, officer Randy Crowe for 15 years of service and Chief Gibbs for 25 years of service. Gibbs was not in attendance at the meeting due to the death this week of his wife Becky Gibbs after an illness. An obituary for Becky Gibbs appears on Page 6A.
Reporter Andrew Stein is at email@example.com.