On March 2, 2022

Study shows more police budgets rising than falling in Vermont

By Alan J. Keays/VTDigger

Many are higher, some a bit lower, while others stayed flat. That’s what researchers found in a new survey of local police spending proposals facing voters in many communities across Vermont on Town Meeting Day — showing an overall increase of 3.6%.

The analysis, conducted by the University of Vermont’s Center for Research by student interns and researchers, provides a look at police budget proposals researchers gathered from 95 of the 246 cities and towns across the state.

The proposed police budgets for those 95 communities totals $74.9 million, an increase of $2.6 million, or 3.6%, from their previous year’s approved budgets.

“We really wanted to get it done before Town Meeting so that voters have a chance to compare their levels of police spending before they go in and vote,” Richard Watts, head of the research center, said of the survey.

More of the proposed budgets are going up than down, according to the survey.

Of the proposed budgets for the 95 communities surveyed this year, 59 are seeing increases, 25 are flat and 11 dropped.

“One story here is that on average, most towns are increasing their police spending,” Watts said. The survey found that on average, spending plans proposed by police for the 95 cities and towns are up about 7.5%.

The survey provided numbers, but with a big-picture perspective, it does not delve into the specific reasons for the increases or decreases, according to lead student researcher Andrew Langdon.

Some of the budget swings, the researchers said, could reflect one-time purchases, wage and benefit increases, or rising inflation. Consumer prices rose 7.5% from January 2021 to January 2022, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The proposed spending plans for Fairlee and Rutland City provide a look at swings up and down.

An Orange County town with a population of about 1,000, Fairlee’s proposed budget is increasing about 75%, from roughly $42,200 to $74,000.

The town has a police chief who works about 10 hours a week, Selectboard Chair Peter Berger said Monday, Feb. 28, with the municipality contracting with the sheriff’s department for coverage that can change from week to week depending on when they can provide it.

Much of the proposed increase this year would add about 20 hours a week of police coverage from a dedicated part-time officer, providing a boost of law enforcement visibility in town, Berger said.

“There’s concern about increasing incidents,” Berger said. “It’s split between vehicle and non-vehicle.”

Meanwhile in Rutland City, the proposed police budget is $6.4 million. That’s a drop of about $388,000 or 5.5% from last year’s approved budget of $6.8 million, according to the study.

Rutland City Police Chief Brian Kilcullen said Friday, Feb. 25, the proposed budget does not fund several positions that had been vacant for some time as the city, like law enforcement agencies across the state and country, is struggling to find qualified recruits.

“Openings we had in the current fiscal year weren’t funded going forward,” Kilcullen said, adding that the Rutland department has 13 openings with eight of those positions not funded going into the next year.

“The consensus was that we wouldn’t necessarily be able to identify 13 candidates to hire,” the police chief said.

If qualified candidates are found, Kilcullen said, the city would look to find the funds to hire them.

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