Vermont Sheriffs Under Increasing Stress

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(Host) As cities and towns look for ways to cut spending to the bone, the head of the Vermont Sheriff’s Association says he and his colleagues are under an unprecedented amount of stress because they’re losing contracts that keep their operations vital.

Some sheriffs are not only dealing with the pressure of maintaining those contracts, but also the repercussions of balancing their own budgets – and, in the worst cases, firing personnel.

VPR’s Kirk Carapezza reports.

(Carapezza) It’s Wednesday morning, and Lamoille County Sheriff Roger Marcoux is tired.

He takes off his thick-framed glasses, and rubs his eyes as he checks in with his staff at the dispatch center in Hyde Park.

(Marcoux) "Is it any busier?"

(Dispatch) "No, not really."

(Carapezza) Today, in fact, it’s really slow.

But Marcoux promises it’ll heat up – this dispatch takes in about 8,000 calls each year.

His department has agreements with surrounding cities and towns. And since they don’t get state funds, Marcoux and other sheriffs depend heavily on these contracts to balance their books.

(Marcoux) "If a sheriff happens to go over budget, there’s no fall back. That’s on them to get the money from somewhere to pay for that. There’s a lot of stress upon the sheriffs right now to try to maintain that level of service with less money."

(Carapezza) Marcoux has been the sheriff here for 10 years. He now heads the state’s sheriff’s association. And he says during his tenure he has never seen sheriffs under so much pressure.

In Franklin County, for example, Sheriff Richard Norris was forced to fire five deputies and two dispatchers after the town of St. Albans dropped his largest contract, signing a deal, instead, with the St. Albans City Police Department.

In Windham County, Sheriff Keith Clark says he can read the writing on the wall, though he hasn’t had to cut any of his staff.

(Clark) "Not yet. But this year it’s probably gonna be the first year that I have to at least look at that possibility. In the last five years this department has been busy all the way through the summer well into October. And right now I have no major jobs that we’re working, so I’m looking at a major loss of revenue."

(Carapezza) Vermont sheriffs worry all this stress in dealing with decreased revenue may have tragic consequences.  The recent suicide of Grand Isle Sheriff Connie Allen has shaken many of them.

For now, at their monthly meetings, the sheriffs will provide each other with better emotional support by sharing their struggles, as they wait for cash-strapped cities and towns to renew their contracts.

For VPR News, I’m Kirk Carapezza.

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