BARRE — A request for additional police officers to address an increased workload was discussed at a special budget meeting at City Hall on Monday.
The request came from Barre Police Chief Tim Bombardier at a meeting designed to deliver a draft budget to councilors.
“My goal was to allow the council more time to absorb the budget, deliberate it, make the tough decisions, and not have to cram it all into the month of January,” Barre City Manager Steve Mackenzie said Tuesday. “My principle objective was to deliver where the budgeted amounts changed in a significant way — either up or down — whether it was revenue or expenses.”
Also in attendance were Deputy Chief Larry Eastman, four police officers and Washington County State’s Attorney Rory Thibault. Mackenzie said they were present “to give a perspective on the need for additional officers, which I think the council absorbed and appreciated, myself included.”
“No decisions were made last night, and it may be some time before any decisions are made,” he added.
Bombardier handed out a fact sheet he distributed at a public safety forum in September, showing the city’s crime rate had been steadily trending down since 2015 and the number of residents under the supervision of the Department of Corrections is about half of what it was a few years ago. Conversely, the data also showed that calls for service are increasing along with the number of neighborhood watches in the city, and the launch of the Street Crimes Unit late last year had also increased the workload for the police department.
At the time of the public safety forum in September, Bombardier was calling for the addition of two police officers.
“Tim (Bombardier) has long been an advocate of the need for additional officers, anywhere from a minimum of two officers, and I know in the past he’s mentioned six (officers). I didn’t realize he was going to put six (officers) out there (last night),” Mackenzie said.
Mackenzie said Bombardier and supporters made a strong case for additional coverage.
“Basically, it was the workload, the number of calls for services, responses (by officers), the increased activity of the Street Crimes Unit that would require the commitment of two, otherwise, patrol officers in the Street Crimes Unit,” Mackenzie said.
As part of any funding request, Mackenzie said the Barre Police Department would also need to consider applying for grants from the federal COPS (Community Oriented Policing Services) program, administered by the U.S. Department of Justice, to help offset the estimated $85,000 to $90,000 cost of each additional officer.
“But before the council can begin to address the impacts and the feasibility of trying to fund part or all of that request, he needs to put forward a specific written proposal showing what the budgeted cost would be,” Mackenzie said.
On another front for police department needs, Rep. Peter Anthony, D-Barre, asked for council support for his legislative bill, H.259, requesting state funding to create a social worker position for both the Barre and Montpelier police departments. Both police departments have had had an increasing number of calls where officers need to deal with someone with mental health issues.
On the additional law enforcement needs, Mackenzie expressed an all-to-familiar refrain: “The question is, how do you pay for it? The need is apparent. The question is, how do we pay for all of these other needs, many of which feel like they’re social service needs? ... Nobody has extra money floating around to pay for these severely needed resources, but that’s what we’re faced with.”
The only other in-person request at the special budget meeting came from Loren Polk, director of the Aldrich Public Library, and Nancy Pope, library board of trustees’ president. They requested an appropriation of $230,000, an increase of $8,500 or 3.8% on the current year.
Mackenzie said he was not worried about the request, having already penciled in a 3% increase for the library in next year’s budget.
A second special budget session meeting is scheduled for Saturday, Dec. 21, at 8 a.m.