by Doug McClure
HARDWICK – The select board spent a second consecutive meeting dealing with repercussions from Greensboro’s decision to not renew its annual police contract, which will cost Hardwick almost a quarter of the town budget’s entire FY2022 revenues.
At the March 18 meeting, Hardwick Police Department (HPD) Chief Aaron Cochran expressed no short-term concerns because one officer had deployed and another left, but said that after July 1 the force would need to rely on part-time employees or cut services. Beyond that, no clear road map existed except perhaps finding a neighboring town or towns to provide coverage to. At the April 1 meeting, that situation had not changed.
Chief Cochran floated hiring a part-time officer who he said was a former marine and that he was “very impressed with his background.” This officer’s details had not been included in the board’s informational packets or on the agenda.
Chair Eric Remick said, “I don’t have any problem with appointing someone, just I haven’t had time to review it and feel more informed.”
Vice Chair Ceilidh Galloway-Kane said that these hires had always been agenda action items. “I’ve got nothing against hiring [them], it’s just the way we’re doing it this time.”
Chief Cochran said he couldn’t explain why the information had not gone into the informational packet and wondered what else the board wanted to know. In past years, his proposed hires have been approved with little discussion.
“I’m at a loss as to why it’s different now,” Chief Cochran said. The board rejected the hire for now in a 2-2 split with Galloway-Kane abstaining, a “nay” from Remick and Gary Bellavance, and Michael Deering and Shari Cornish approving. The board will revisit the matter next week.
Chief Cochran said that this part-time hire was “part of the process” to offset lost revenue from the Greensboro contract. “We’ve got to get some part-time officers in.” He said that “other than what [officers] we have right now, [not doing] anything further would reduce the services to Hardwick [after July 1].” Chief Cochran said that since the last meeting no “solid plan” had been developed to resolve the budget hole.
Bellavance said a Barton selectman had called him about “looking for a little coverage in Barton” and “said they felt they weren’t received well by the Town of Hardwick.”
Chief Cochran and Fielder said that the characterization was inaccurate. Fielder added “nothing was committed to” in the call and discussions were ongoing. Chief Cochran said that HPD had investigated making an arrangement with Barton but “the biggest primary problem is no radio coverage.” He said HPD’s dispatch contractor “is not going to work” in Barton with no alternatives available via the Vermont State Police or Newport Town and he was not going to put officers in an area without radio coverage. “That would be completely unsafe.”
Barton had contracted with Orleans County Sheriff, but negotiations collapsed early this year when its select board balked at the sheriff’s roughly-$49,000 police services proposal. According to state data and town reports, even if HPD contracted with adjacent or nearby towns including Albany, Barton, Glover, Elmore, Irasburg, Sheffield/Wheelock, and Woodbury, the amount those towns spend currently on policing either through state police or county sheriffs would still be almost $100,000 short of the Greensboro contract. The only adjacent town with police spending commensurate to Hardwick is Wolcott, which budgeted $281,684 for the Lamoille County Sheriff. In recent years, coverage to Wolcott has not been raised at Hardwick select board meetings and only raised once and quickly dropped at a Wolcott meeting.
The closest small-town police force is Brighton/Island Pond’s, which budgeted $63,017 for part-time policing in 2021 to cover just under half the population of Hardwick. Morristown is almost twice the size of Hardwick and its police budget for FY2022 is $1,354,240 (compared to Hardwick’s $981,303).
Chief Cochran said he had been contacted by the family of long-time dispatcher Lisa Fecteau, who passed in early 2019. The family wanted a memorial and proposed a granite bench. Chief Cochran supported “a little area out front of the building, with a flag and flagpole and flowers, done up nice.” He said the family supported that idea and would “purchase what was necessary for that to happen.” Chief Cochran said the town did not have an “adequate flag” right now and this space would afford that opportunity, “someplace where somebody would like to sit, a little bit of a peaceful spot.”