Barre council decides to share school officer grant
BARRE — City councilors took care of a pair of lingering money matters this week.
One of them was deciding who pays how much for a school-based police officer, whose position was the subject of two citywide votes earlier this year in which funding was narrowly rejected. The other involved how to properly account for some of the money that Barre businessman Charlie Semprebon left the city at his death four years ago.
Voters twice rejected the School Board’s request for $61,000 to cover its share of a city police officer who spends more than two-thirds of his time at Barre City Elementary and Middle School, but the position was preserved. The city has since landed a $125,000 federal grant that will help pay for it for the next three years.
However, Councilor Paul Poirier had suggested the city should get the full benefit — $41,666 a year — of the grant from the U.S. Justice Department, rather than sharing it with the school district.
Poirier wasn’t at this week’s council meeting, but the agenda included the question of how the city and school district should split the bill for the police position.
There wasn’t any support for Poirier’s suggestion that the city claim all of the grant. Still, the school district’s portion of the cost will be somewhat higher than previously anticipated, thanks to a change to the cost-sharing formula that has been in place for some time.
For the past several years, that formula has been based on Officer Jason Fleury’s “total compensation” — $93,680 for the current fiscal year — and the fact that he spends 69 percent of his time working in the school. Without factoring in the federal grant, the school district’s share of the cost would have been $64,640, with the city picking up the $29,040 balance.
However, Mayor Thomas Lauzon urged the council to revise the formula based on the “total cost” of the position, which, including things like training expenses, the cost of workers’ compensation and vacation time, is closer to $105,000 this year.
Lauzon said he had no problem crediting the school district with 69 percent of the annual proceeds from the grant — $28,750. But he argued the school should foot 69 percent of the total cost — roughly $72,500 this year — for a net cost to the school district of about $44,000.
School officials had estimated the district’s share of the position, after factoring in the grant, would be just under $36,000.
Lauzon wanted a commitment from the School Board to maintain local funding for the position, as is required by the grant.
“I want to have that mutual commitment,” he said. “We’re in this together.”
Councilors Lucas Herring and Anita Chadderton, who also serve on the School Board, expressed no concern about Lauzon’s request. Herring, who is chairman of the School Board, did not participate in the council’s vote to approve the revised cost-sharing plan that Lauzon outlined.
Councilors also settled on a plan to handle a portion of Semprebon’s multimillion-dollar bequest to the city that wasn’t specifically earmarked for a regional bike path or other unspecified civic improvements.
Thanks to a life annuity Semprebon established with the Vermont Community Foundation, the city should receive roughly $50,000 a year in perpetuity for use as it sees fit. Since Semprebon’s death, the city has amassed $201,683 in annual payments, including $53,805 earlier this year.
With the next installment due in February, City Manager Steve Mackenzie urged councilors to assign the money — some of which is earmarked for specific purposes, but none of which has been spent — from the city’s general fund to a stand-alone account that would be used for council-approved projects.
Segregating the money into the new Semprebon VCF Trust Account will safeguard against its being used to cover general fund expenses, according to Mackenzie.
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