Westminster approves more police coverage
By Susan Smallheer
Staff Writer | March 03,2013
WESTMINSTER — Residents approved hiring the Windham County Sheriff’s Department to give additional police coverage in the face of increased crime in Westminster, voters at town meeting decided Saturday.
On a close voice vote, the plan to join with Putney to hire the Sheriff’s Department was accepted, but not before debate on the role of law enforcement in a small town. Westminster will get close to 40 hours of coverage under the plan; it currently has about 15 hours of coverage per week.
A motion to limit the Sheriff’s Department’s traffic control efforts to 10 hours out of the 35 hours per week failed on an overwhelming voice vote.
Proponents of limiting the speed enforcement said it would hurt townspeople in the long run.
Several residents and business owners who have been victims of burglaries in the past year or so spoke in favor of hiring the Sheriff’s Department, adding $37,000 to the $1.8 million town budget, which was later approved on a unanimous voice vote.
The Select Board will work with Windham County Sheriff Keith Clark — a resident of Westminster — to determine the time and focus of the police work.
Residents complained that they got short shrift from Vermont State Police, saying they often had to wait hours for troopers to show up to investigate property crimes.
But others said that hiring the Sheriff’s Department was a waste of money.
One business owner said he had been burglarized and vandalized close to a dozen times in recent years — with no action by police.
Selectman Craig Allen said it was a one-year experiment, and that townspeople would decide the future of the plan in a year.
Allen said businesses are investing in private surveillance cameras, but even when the alarm goes off, the state police don’t come.
Other people said they would welcome the increased presence of an officer in town to cut down on speeding on busy town roads.
“I support this highly,” said Babetta Lynds, a town lister, adding that she constantly hears the complaint “Where are the cops when you need them?”
She said crime in town was not limited to burglaries, but also included domestic abuse and noise.
“We need somebody in the middle of the night,” said resident John Cook.
He said the police contract amounted to “chump change,” an assertion that was greeted with applause.
In addition to passing the town budget without a single question, voters also approved $130,000 for the highway equipment reserve fund, $15,000 for the bridge rehabilitation reserve fund, and $2,500 for the Westminster Recreation Club, which runs the town’s swimming area.
The town also approved giving delinquent taxpayers a break on the late penalty, cutting it from 8 percent to 3 percent, if all taxes are paid within 30 days of the second installment due date.
The town also gave a standing ovation to longtime Selectman Paul Harlow, who is retiring after 16 years of service — about half that time serving as chairman.
Harlow, a well-known organic vegetable farmer, said he felt it was time for “new blood” on the board. He thanked former town managers, current and former board members, town clerks and others for their help and support, as well as his large, extended family.
While there have been differences on the board, he said, “we all wanted what was best for Westminster.”
The 2012 annual report was also dedicated to Harlow’s long town service, including his volunteerism with local schoolchildren, teaching them the basics of gardening.
“Paul is a rare individual that gives all he has, solely for the betterment of his fellow citizens,” the dedication said.
Allen presented Harlow with a plaque in honor of his long service.
Town candidates and union school budgets will be voted by ballot from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Westminster Institute.