Petition started to save the Vernon Police Dept. - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Petition started to save the Vernon Police Dept.

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Just outside the Vernon Police Department is a petition that's gaining signatures. It first began after an unexpected vote on Town Meeting Day.        

"I was really taken aback by it. Very surprised by the vote and I don't think many people were expecting it," said Gina Dyer, a Vernon resident.

As an amendment to the select board's $2.1 million budget, a resident in Vernon motioned to strip the police department of all of its funding, essentially axing the four full-time officers and additional part-time staff. Supporters say the town can contract out policing duties to the sheriff's department or state police. The motion was seconded and went to paper ballot.

"It was just brought up on the floor by a town resident and it passed. And I think a lot of us were like what just happened," said Dyer.

"Out of more than 1,600 voters that we have in the town, only 230 people made this decision," said Michael Ball, the Vernon resident who started the petition.

Ball is a former select board member who spoke against the surprise proposal on Town Meeting Day. 

"As an EMT on the fire department, I'm not going to have a backup when I need it. That's not OK," said Ball.

So, Ball started the petition. If 5 percent of the town signs it, the entire budget needs to be considered, including the amendment to close the department.

"To go from 140 patrol hours to basically 18, in a week. That I call jumping off the cliff," said Ball.

So, the question is why? And a soon-to-be-closed nuclear power plant contains a lot of the answers. Eighty-two residents of Vernon work for Vermont Yankee and the plant pays the town roughly $1.3 million in taxes every year, almost half the budget. But the plant is closing and select board members say they have to look to the future, life after Yankee.

"The community has to look at how we can do things differently," said select board Chairwoman Patricia O'Donnell.

She says their budget, which included continued operation of the police department, trimmed almost $500,000 across the board.

The move to close the department would save the town more than $300,000 before patrolling contracts. 

O'Donnell declined to say how she voted on the amendment, but says the motion was an extension of the same theme, deep cuts are necessary for the town to survive. 

"That's what town meeting is all about." O'Donnell said. 

Those backing the petition have 30 days to collect the needed signatures.  If that happens, the select board has another 60 to set a special town meeting to reconsider the budget. Something those on the petition say is worth a second look.

Vermont Yankee is slated to close late this year. But the plant and the town of Vernon already made a deal on tax payments pegging the plant's assessed value about 20 percent below last year. Vernon relies on Yankee for half of its yearly budget.

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