The cities of Barre and Montpelier are fortunate to be served by professional, high-quality police, fire and ambulance services. When you pick up the phone in an emergency, you can be confident that you will receive a prompt and professional response from emergency services personnel in both of our cities.
We believe we can do even better. After years of work and study, the city councils of Barre and Montpelier have approved the adoption of a charter for a new regional public safety authority, which would authorize the creation of a stronger, more effective emergency services system.
On Town Meeting Day, the voters in Montpelier and Barre will be asked to approve this charter for the new authority. Approval of the charter will not create a new entity — that may come later after further deliberations by both cities. No services or budgets will be moved into the authority without additional public hearings and approval by our respective city councils. Any future annual budgets for the authority would be presented to voters as a separate line item.
We believe the new authority has the potential to improve both the quality and efficiency of our public safety services. Our police, fire and ambulance departments face rising costs each year. Every year, voters are asked to approve budgets to purchase expensive equipment, often costing hundreds of thousands of dollars, duplicating resources of nearby communities. Increasingly stringent federal standards continue to put pressure on budgets.
Our public safety professionals have responded to these challenges admirably by continuing to provide high-quality services to citizens in need, responding quickly and professionally to fire, police and ambulance calls. By working together, we have an opportunity to deliver even higher-quality services and lower costs. We can improve our ability to respond to fluctuations in budgets, to achieve better staffing ratios, and to provide greater career opportunities and training to our professionals. We will also benefit from the ability to pool and deploy emergency service assets more strategically, ensuring that the right services are provided when our residents are in need of assistance.
Over time, consolidation of services could help us right-size our departments. Bureau of Justice Statistics data shows that law enforcement departments serving 25,000 to 100,000 residents require fewer staff per 10,000 residents than departments serving larger or smaller populations. By coming together regionally, we may achieve savings through economies of scale.
The combination of our departments, while creating a size that would be modest nationally, would be among Vermont’s largest. This would allow us to attract even higher-quality applicants from a broad geography. It would also provide greater opportunities for job mobility for our emergency services personnel.
With careful planning and implementation, we can begin to realize the benefits of working in concert. We will be better able to weather future fiscal challenges, while delivering top-notch services to our citizens. We will also realize a decades-old vision of regionalization, working together to deliver police, fire, ambulance and dispatch more quickly and reliably to our homes and businesses. We hope that other towns, including Barre Town and Berlin, will join us in our efforts.
John Hollar is the mayor of Montpelier. Thomas Lauzon is the mayor of Barre.MORE IN Commentary
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