The Vermont Supreme Court has sided with the city of St. Albans in a dispute with the Franklin County sheriff.
The court rejected the sheriff’s argument that the bidding process for providing law enforcement in St. Albans was so unfair that it killed any competition. The court’s decision has implications for local governments across the state.
The town of St. Albans doesn’t have its own police department and for more than 25 years contracted with the country sheriff for law enforcement.
But last year, after seeking bids, the town decided to award the contract for police patrols to the city of St. Albans.
The town gained 24-hour coverage. And City Manager Dominic Cloud says the city’s proposal cost a couple hundred thousand dollars less than the sheriff’s.
"Decisions like this can be tough in small communities because the people that are affected from an employment perspective you oftentimes have a connection to," Cloud says. "But they’re really important in order to preserve long-term property tax stability and reduce the cost of government."
After the town contracted with the City of St. Albans Police Department, Sheriff Bob Norris sued the city, arguing it created what he called a monopoly by entering an "artificially low bid."
When a trial judge denied the sheriff’s predatory pricing lawsuit, he appealed to the state’s highest court.
"The way that this process took place I cannot compete with a larger police department which has many more resources," said Norris, who, without the contract, was threatening to cut his staff.
But in its decision the court ruled the purpose of anti-trust laws is to protect competition not competitors. It upheld the findings of the trial court, saying the Sheriff’s Office wasn’t denied something in which it had a legally protected interest.
Dominic Cloud says local governments across the state have been keeping an eye on this case as they increasingly look to cut costs.
"If cities and towns were prohibited from saving money by working together that would have been a big problem for us," Cloud says. "This decision clears the way for the city and town of St. Albans to continue to work together on public safety."
The town’s contract with the city has been in place for more than a year now, and it’s expected to save the town more than $1 million over the next three years.