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Bradford to Vote on School Resource Officer

Bradford Town Meeting will be held Tuesday, March 5 at 9 a.m. at the Bradford Academy auditorium. Immediately following the Town Meeting, the annual Water and Sewer Commission meeting will take place in the auditorium.

Bradford, Vt. — Town Meeting voters will decide whether to hire a a school resource police officer at Oxbow Union High School. If a majority favors the idea, however, Bradford Police Chief Jeffrey Stiegler said the position wouldn’t be filled unless federal funding to offset most of the cost becomes available.

“Currently, there is no money in the COPS FAST program or Department of Justice monies for such a position,” Stiegler said, referring to two potential grant sources to pay the officer’s salary. “However, there is a perception that this school resource officer funding piece may come back.”

Interest in a school resource officer was spurred, in part, by the arrest last fall of longtime gym teacher Brian Musty, who has been charged with sexually assaulting a former student in the late 1990s, including an alleged incident on school grounds.

“There is a correlation between the School Board, Selectboard and Police Commission as far as exploring this, but I can’t definitively say it’s tied to that,” Stiegler said, referencing Musty’s arrest. “The need has been identified, but now the question is how to fund the need.”

He went on to say, “It’s not that one incident in and of itself that says we have to have a school resource officer.”

Stiegler said he’s heard mixed sentiments from residents about adding a third officer to the town’s two-man force. Some feel an officer dedicated to the high school is proactive approach to enforcement, while others are concerned with the cost.

“Another piece is some people don’t understand exactly what the job is about,” he said.

The officer, Stiegler said, would keep campus safe, direct traffic and implement programs to help kids understand “police in concept” at an earlier age.

None of the funding for the project would come from the union high school, which also serves Newbury and draws tuition paying students form a handful of other towns.

The warning article states grant funding must cover at least 75 percent of salary costs for the position for at least three years before the position is filled. .

Included in the proposed $176,544 police budget for 2013-14 is $3,800 set aside to cover the remaining salary for the position in case funding became available because the officer would be “under the umbrella” of the Bradford department .

The proposed police budget is up 40 percent, from last year’s approved budget, partly due to salary increases to expand the staff size of the department. Stiegler said there is enough projected money to hire a full-time officer and part-time officer to bring the Bradford Police Department staff from two to four members . He said the department has been unsuccessful at attracting qualified candidates in the past, so when developing the next year’s police budget, wages for the vacant positions were increased to make the them more desirable.

Bradford voters will also decide whether the police department should lease or purchase a new vehicle to replace the department’s 13-year-old Ford Explorer. Stiegler said the vehicle purchase would come out the reserve fund and “the fund has more than adequate funds in it” to cover the full cost of the vehicle.

“The current vehicle is not an asset to the police department, it’s a liability,” he said. The department is looking to purchase a 2012 or 2013 Ford Expedition, with a price of about $27,000.

Overall, the town’s proposed general fund budget, including police, is just over $1 million, a 7 percent, or $66,185, from the current year’s budget. The amount to be raised by taxes — $923,517 — is up 8 percent, or $68,524.

“Police was the biggest culprit,” Treasurer Henrietta Powers said. “I know there weren’t increases across the board.”

Based on current spending, Powers said residents pay a town property tax rate of just under 68 cents per $100 of valuation, or $1,687 on a home assessed at $250,000. Based on proposed spending, Powers said that rate would rise to 72 cents per $100 of valuation, or $1,800 for the same home.

Those taxes also support the proposed highway budget of nearly $840,000, which is not part of the general fund. The highway spending plan is a 1.9 percent increase from this year’s budget, while the taxpayer-funded portion of $734,704 would be 2.1 percent increase, or $15,362.

Eight other spending articles, if approved, could add just over $38,000 to the general fund budget. Bradford residents petitioned all eight articles, Administrative Assistant Danielle Robinson said, including appropriating funds for Stagecoach Transportation Services, Orange East Senior Center and Central Vermont Adult Basic Education.

Bradford voters will also debate whether to direct state and federal lawmakers to pass a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines. Bradford is one of several Upper Valley towns to take up gun control measures at Town Meeting.

All of Bradford’s Town Meeting will be conducted from the floor, including election of two Selectboard members. Terms are expiring for Chairman Ted Unkles and Vice Chairwoman Carole Taylors’ and both said they plan to seek reelection.

Although Town Clerk Marianne McClure and Unkles both said there are no other known candidates at this time.

“We’ll find out,” Unkles said. “This is classic town meeting stuff. The floor is open for nominations and you don’t have to declare or submit a petition.”

Unkles, a 24-year Bradford resident, will complete his second three-year term next month, while Taylor, a lifelong Bradford resident, is in her first term.

In addition to Town Meeting, Bradford water and sewer district users also have a special meeting on Tuesday to vote on whether to restore fluoride to the water supply.

The annual Oxbow school meeting is scheduled for March 26.

Jordan Cuddemi can be contacted at jcuddemi@gmail.com.