by Doug McClure
HARDWICK – At the March 18 select board meeting, the board discussed Greensboro’s cancellation of the $245,053 contract for police services. The contract accounts for nearly a quarter of all revenues in Hardwick’s town budget.
At Greensboro’s Town Meeting, voters approved a budget with a $78,000 decrease for police services with a note that “As of now, we are unsure what our police services will be starting on 7/1/21.”
At its March 10 meeting, the Greensboro Select Board voted to contract with the Orleans County Sheriff’s Department for police services for $190,000 for one year, starting on July 1, 2021.
Select board chair Eric Remick said Greensboro signed with Orleans County for “roughly the same amount they would have paid us.”
Remick said that Hardwick “built the police force based on covering two towns.” Town Manager Shaun Fielder and Hardwick Police Department (HPD) Chief Aaron Cochran discussed solutions.
Fielder said, “we didn’t get an official written notice, just a call from one of their select board members,” informing them of the cancelation. He said Hardwick had tried to keep “an open channel and keep the conversation going” and did their best to explain costs to Greensboro. “We were at a significant disadvantage because we weren’t invited to the table to offer more,” he said.
Fielder said a “line of commentary” had emerged that Greensboro thought it had been taken advantage of in past years and asked to pay more than their share. “We respectfully disagree with that,” he said.
The contract specified 24% of HPD’s costs as its cost-basis for budgeted services.
“If you look at our evaluation over the last eight to ten-year period, there’s some years where [the actual cost] may be a little more than 24% and some years where it may be under,” Fielder said. “In no way, shape, or form were we trying to take advantage of the taxpayers and the community being served.”
He added, “We looked at this as a negotiation. The other side at no point considered this a negotiation.”
Chief Cochran mentioned one officer from the town’s department had moved to another agency and another officer deployed, thus reducing current payroll costs. Remick said not having to pay those two officers got the town within roughly $40,000 of the lost revenue. The department is currently in a hiring freeze and will not seek to fill the position vacated by the officer who left, nor can they fill the deployed officer’s position, which must by law be held open for that person when they return from deployment.
Chief Cochran said he agreed that HPD did everything in its power to work with Greensboro and “sometimes bent over backwards,” including preparing an evolving set of Greensboro-specific reports at the town’s request and sending an HPD representative to Greensboro select board meetings.
Remick said he was not aware of any complaints about the service HPD provided.
Chief Cochran said he and Fielder were evaluating options, including eliminating a shift or immediately reducing on-call personnel. Chief Cochran said the “worst-case scenario” would be reducing coverage to less than 24-hours, but “I don’t see that [happening],” he said. Fielder said additional personnel cuts were not an option as it would be “bad for morale.”
Also discussed was the possibility of HPD providing policing services for another town or towns to fill the revenue gap left by Greensboro’s decision. Fielder said he was “upset” by the cancelation.
“We’ve had a long-standing working relationship with Greensboro,” he said. “They’ve decided to go a different direction [and] we honor that, [but] we’re prepared to be there as a future service provider if the opportunity comes up.” Fielder said the contract with Greensboro will remain in effect until the end of June. “We have an obligation to do this service through June 30 and we damn sure will be doing it,” he said. “That’s our obligation.”