Bristol police cut proposed spending by 10.5 percent

BRISTOL — Voters in the Bristol Police District next month will weigh in a proposed budget for the 2011-2012 fiscal year that features a 10.5 percent cut in spending and would require 6.5 percent less money from taxpayers.

The Bristol selectboard at a Monday meeting warned the May 23 police district annual meeting at which votes will be cast on the budget that features $337,322 in overall spending, which represents a $35,511 reduction from the current year’s $372,833 spending plan. The budget would require $294,222 from taxpayers, which is $20,361 less than the $314,583 required to fund police in the current year.

Last year, Bristol village residents turned down an initial police spending plan of $378,806 before approving the $337,322 police budget in late July.

If police district voters pass this year’s proposed police budget at the May 23 police district meeting — slated for 7 p.m. in Holley Hall — the budget will go into effect on July 1.

Before reaching voters, the budget was first presented to the selectboard on Monday.

The most heavily debated topic of the evening was whether to include a 3.5 percent pay raise for full-time police officers, which was included in this year’s reduced budget proposal.

Full-time Bristol officers are working longer than they have in previous years due to a slightly smaller staff. In January and February of 2011 full-time officers responded to a total of 155.5 calls per officer compared to 100.2 in the same period of 2010 and 110.8 in 2009.

Town Administrator Bill Bryant commended Police Chief Kevin Gibbs.

“This is a very positive budget that you’re presenting for the district voters on May 23,”  he said.

But Bryant had his reservations about the pay raise. In an effort to spread funding around to other town departments, as Bryant put it, he instead proposed a 2 percent raise for full-time officers.

His proposal was met by quick yet cordial opposition from the selectboard.

“I personally don’t think we want to get too barebones because it’s too hard to get back up again,” said Selectwoman Sharon Compagna, about not giving the department their requested 3.5 percent raise.

“I think that on the majority we go with the recommendations of our department heads,” said Selectman John “Peeker” Heffernan. “I just feel that I would like to support (Gibbs) and move forward with his proposal … Salary and wages should get dealt with on a merit base. Given the situation right now … I don’t see an issue with it at this time. “

“I’m in favor of going a little bit extra on (raises) given the fact that there is a (budget) decrease from last year and you guys (the police) are working really hard,” said Selectman Alan Huizenga.

Selectwoman Carol Wells concurred.

“If there was an increase in the budget, I’d probably be more concerned,” she said.

After selectboard chairman Joel Bouvier called for a vote of the selectboard, the motion to adopt the police budget proposal was unanimously passed.

In other business at the April 11 meeting:

•  Chief Gibbs and the selectboard honored George “Randy” Crowe’s 20 years of service to the town of Bristol as a police officer.

•  The selectboard made appointments to several town offices. Perhaps most notable is that Willow Wheelock and Kris Perlee were reappointed to the Bristol Planning Commission, and Skimmer Hellier is a new addition to the planning commission.

•  Nina Badger and David Bannister presented a preliminary plan to the selectboard to discuss the possibility of opening a new bar in the location that was previously Dan’s Place on the east end of Main Street.

•  The selectboard has scheduled the road tour for April 28, when they will drive around Bristol and decide which road projects need urgent attention this summer.

•  Town Clerk Therese Kirby reminded residents that dog license renewals are overdue.

•  Bryant called for a 10 percent increase to sewer rates for the “downtown block.” Currently, the quarterly minimum sewer charge is pegged at $125. This increase means that the $500 minimum annual sewer rate will go up $50.

“Nobody remembers the last time the rates were increased and they have not been increased in at least 5 years,” said Bryant. “If you’re connected to the sewer, you pay for it, which is the downtown block including: Rite Aid, Shaw’s, Holley Hall, and several other freestanding buildings.”

Not only have sewer rates not been raised in recent selectboard memory, but also the town is looking to expand its reserves.

“The surplus reserve has been dwindling over the past few years. In the future, the town is looking at a large system upgrade and needs to start saving for a down payment,” said Kirby.

The selectboard, town administrator and municipal officers will discuss town water and sewer rates with the public at the May 23 meeting.

Reporter Andrew Stein is at andrews@addisonindependent.com.

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