BELLOWS FALLS, Vt. – Municipal Manager Chip Stearns recently told Bellows Falls Village Trustees that the Police Department wants to add an additional full-time officer at a cost of about $70,000 with wages and benefits.
The trustees approved the request, with the result that the Police Department will soon have 10 full-time officers.
“The intent is to have the position filled from within by having a current part-time officer promoted; the position would be straight-time, which would eliminate some of the overtime currently occurring at the department,” Stearns said. “This would allow the department to have two level 2 (training) officers who would be able to investigate an initial call or incident, and then turn the information over to a level 3 officer.”
He said the goal is to have two full-time officers on duty 24/7 without any overtime intentionally scheduled.
Stearns said the Bellows Falls Police Department union contract would come into play.
The contract states: “The employer will attempt to have two or more police officers on duty at all times for the safety of the officers and the security of the Bellows Falls Village Corporation.”
Bellows Falls Police Chief Ron Lake said there is the reality of increasing disturbances in the area.
“Things are changing; the violence level is now more severe,” Lake said.
He cited a recent incident at a local restaurant that was thwarted by a police show of force, and another altercation involving one of his police officers.
“Nothing is going on in our community, including drug abuse, alcohol abuse and domestic violence, that the rest of the valley isn’t experiencing, including Brattleboro, Springfield, Rutland and Burlington,” Lake said.
Lake said that scheduled overtime has been occurring since July, when officers expressed a desire for two officers on at all times and he agreed. Lake also disclosed that a request has come in from the union to make a greater effort to have two officers on duty 24/7.
Village Trustee Stefan Golec commented that he was in favor of alleviating the need for overtime in the department.
Village Trustee Colin James said he supported the new hire,
“We live in a small community and there may be an uproar over adding another officer, but we know we live in a time of drugs and crime and this change is not only a safety issue, but important to our community,” James said.
Village Trustee Steven Adams thought they’d save on overtime costs.
“If we are routinely scheduling overtime, it makes sense to do this; we are beholden to the taxpayers,” Adams said.
Bellows Falls Trustees Chair Myles Mickle asked Stearns what the payroll cost would be by promoting an officer from within.
Stearns responded that a new full-time position would be around $70,000, including benefits.
By moving a current part-time employee, who is already on the payroll and is getting some benefits, Stearns said he expects the budget increase to be between $20,000 and $25,000, depending on the experience of the officer.
Lake clarified that there may still be some overtime for police.
“I can’t tell if an officer will work past the midnight hour and gain overtime as, if he makes an arrest, starting an investigation at 11 p.m., a few hours are needed to complete paperwork that may need to go to the court in the morning,” the chief said.
During the discussion, villager Deb Wright pointed out that the village now has a budget of more than $1 million for the Police Department, noting that this increase is going to cost the taxpayers more and there will still be overtime.
Wright also stated that there are similar size communities in Vermont that do not have that large a budget.
The board unanimously approved an increase in the Bellows Falls Police Department budget to a new full-time position, and authorized the municipal manager to move forward with the hiring process.