By STEVEN JUPITER
BRANDON—Every fall, the Brandon Budget Committee is tasked with creating a town budget that will be offered for approval to the voters of Brandon at Town Meeting the following March. The Committee is composed of citizens appointed by the Brandon Selectboard and members of the Selectboard itself. This year’s appointed members are Doug Bailey, Jan Coolidge, Neil Silins, Barry Varian, Patricia Welch, and Peter Werner.
The Committee held the first of its four scheduled “workshops” on Wednesday, November 8. Among the topics discussed was the budget for the Brandon Police Department (BPD). Members of the Committee had differences of opinion on how best to fund the Department and whether additional personnel were needed to provide adequate coverage to Brandon.
BPD currently has an annual budget of $864,915, which is intended to cover all of its expenses, including payroll. BPD currently has 5 full-time officers, in addition to Chief David Kachajian, and 2 part-time officers. The Department fields an average of 226 calls per month, or 56 calls per week.
With the current staffing levels, BPD states that it cannot provide 24/7 coverage by on-duty officers. Instead, officers are asked to be “on call” at night and can be summoned from their homes in the middle of the night if the need arises. Officers who are called from home are paid overtime rates.
BPD Chief Kachajian advocates for the hiring of an additional officer to allow BPD to provide round-the-clock coverage and to help officers maintain morale and effectiveness.
In an email to The Reporter, Chief Kachajian stated:
“Having another officer will allow us to go to 24/7 coverage, thus being able to eliminate on-call and call-in pay. Officers will be better rested and have a higher morale when they don’t have to get called in during the middle of the night, sometimes multiple times a night. Constant interrupted sleep is not good for the officer and their health.”
Moreover, according to Chief Kachajian, an additional officer would allow BPD to cut response times, because an officer would always be on duty in Brandon instead of having to come in from their residences. And BPD would be better able to respond to incidents that occur often at night, such as speeding and break ins.
“Our current staffing levels are below what is recommended by the FBI/Department of Justice, so being able to have 2 officers per shift would go a long way towards keeping our officers safe,” the Chief wrote.
However, not all members of the Committee were convinced that an additional officer was justifiable. Selectboard member Tim Guiles was among those who felt that an additional officer might not be advisable.
“My position on the police budget is to have a conversation about the right level of service for Brandon,” Guiles wrote in an email to The Reporter. “There are several Vermont communities that I’m familiar with that have a lower level of police service. I’m also aware of some Vermont communities with higher levels of police service.
“My opinion is that Brandon would be well served with a smaller, well compensated staff of police officers who live in our community. During my 4.5 years on the Board, I have seen many officers come and go. I would like the town to develop long-term police officers who become more integrated into our community.
“Lastly, it’s important to remember that my opinion is only one of 5 [Selectboard members]. Ultimately, the town will have their opportunity at the polls to express their opinion about the budget by voting it up or down.”
Selectboard member Cecil Reniche-Smith wrote in an email solicited by The Reporter:
“When asked at the meeting for my position, I explained that my priority is that the citizens of Brandon feel that, when they are in need of police protection, the police will be there—and that relying on officers working overtime and being on-call is not a sustainable model. It’s expensive and, more importantly, it is hard on the officers and their families.
“But I am also aware of the financial constraints we face as a town. That is why I would like a more in-depth exploration of the financial scenarios and options.”
Ms. Reniche-Smith referred above to the request by the Committee to Chief Kachajian to prepare cost analyses for the competing scenarios—overtime/on call vs. additional officer—so that the Committee could make a more informed decision as to which approach to recommend in the proposed budget. Chief Kachajian will present this information to the Committee at a later meeting.
The next meeting of the Brandon Budget Committee will be held on Monday, November 20 at 6 p.m. in the basement lobby of the Town Hall. All Budget Committee meetings are open to the public.