By Virginia Dean
The contract between the Bridgewater Select Board and the Windsor Sheriff’s Department may soon undergo changes that would make the coverage of the town more consistent and prevent it from having a shortfall with a lack of revenue from ticketed offenses.
The town currently allocates $245,000 for speed enforcement and other calls, the same as last year, according to Town Clerk Nancy Robinson. For FY 2018-2019, the actual budgeted expense was $238,000 and the actual was $210,000.
That provision includes the sheriff’s department providing 84 hours of patrol service 12 hours a day, seven days a week at an hourly rate of $56. This takes into account back road patrols and such service calls as car accidents, ambulance or fire.
Vermont Public Radio reported last year that Bridgewater and Plymouth have the highest speed ticket revenue in the state.
The last fiscal year, Bridgewater ended with a $28,000 shortfall in revenue due to several factors, town officials related.
“Once a ticket is written,” said Robinson, “we don’t know when it will come in. It isn’t guaranteed revenue. A ticket, for instance, could be written in January but we might not see it for several months after.”
This is due in part, Robinson explained, because of the way a ticket is paid. Some may pay on time while others may put themselves on a payment plan; some may make partial payments and then pay in full while others may delay their payments out of disagreement with the issuance of a ticket in the first place.
In addition, because deputies are called to take care of other call services, the amount of tickets issued may fluctuate from year to year.
“Three or four years ago, the Select Board decided to add to its budgeting contract for deputies to attend safety events and backroad patrols,” said Robinson. “It’s an addendum that is sent to the sheriff. The deputies are medically-trained to partake in these extra call services.”
Once a ticket has been issued and paid, it then goes to the Judicial Bureau in White River Junction, Windsor County Sheriff Mike Chamberlain explained.
“I know that the bureau was backed up last fall because of a changeover in its traffic ticket payment system,” said Chamberlain. “It has caught up now, but it had to work out problems associated with that transference. That may have had an impact as well.”
Another factor contributing to the revenue deficit is drivers becoming more cautious as they go through town.
“More people are abiding by the law because they know they’re going to be stopped,” said Select Board Chair Lynne Bertram.
Bertram indicated that instead of the current road signs from the Bridgewater Corners Country Store to the Woodstock line along Route 4, there should be flashing lights in the center of town.
“There should be one speed through there,” said Bertram. “It would allow the deputies to cut back their hours in order to do other things than ticketing. Yet, we do want the presence of the sheriff, and if we put up flashing lights, the sheriff won’t be stopping anyone.”
The seeming conundrum might be simplified, Bertram indicated, by paying for coverage in the early morning when she said there is the highest traffic flow.
“If it’s important to respond to emergencies, it’s usually in the late afternoon or at night,” said Bertram. “I’m just not happy with the whole situation.”
Bertram explained that the Select Board would be willing to meet with the Sheriff’s Department to work out a plan to which both sides could agree.
“Absolutely,” said Chamberlain. ”That’s what it’s all about – to figure out what the best service is to the town. After all, that’s how we survive. The funding source pays for our cruisers, deputies and equipment. We don’t get state funding for law enforcement.”
Chamberlain said the average price for a cruiser and the equipment that goes with it is about $50,000. He noted that his department is contracted with eight towns in the immediate area.
“It’s a pretty expensive operation but we try to do the best we can to provide the best service possible,” said Chamberlain.