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Hartford Police to Have Chief

  • Hartford Patrol Officer Frederick Peyton calls in the license plate of a truck he had just pulled over for speeding on Route 4 in Hartford, Vt., on Jan. 13, 2013.  <br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap

    Hartford Patrol Officer Frederick Peyton calls in the license plate of a truck he had just pulled over for speeding on Route 4 in Hartford, Vt., on Jan. 13, 2013.
    Valley News - Sarah Priestap Purchase photo reprints »

  • Hartford Patrol Officer Frederick Peyton checks the lane of Route 4 in White River Junction, Vt., for traffic while responding to a DUI check with Patrol Officer Dan Solomita during their evening shift on Jan. 13, 2013.  <br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap

    Hartford Patrol Officer Frederick Peyton checks the lane of Route 4 in White River Junction, Vt., for traffic while responding to a DUI check with Patrol Officer Dan Solomita during their evening shift on Jan. 13, 2013.
    Valley News - Sarah Priestap Purchase photo reprints »

  • Hartford Patrol Officers Frederick Peyton, left, and Dan Solomita finish investigating a home in Quechee, Vt., after answering a call for a burglary alarm on Jan. 13, 2013. <br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap

    Hartford Patrol Officers Frederick Peyton, left, and Dan Solomita finish investigating a home in Quechee, Vt., after answering a call for a burglary alarm on Jan. 13, 2013.
    Valley News - Sarah Priestap Purchase photo reprints »

  • Hartford Patrol Officer Frederick Peyton calls in the license plate of a truck he had just pulled over for speeding on Route 4 in Hartford, Vt., on Jan. 13, 2013.  <br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap
  • Hartford Patrol Officer Frederick Peyton checks the lane of Route 4 in White River Junction, Vt., for traffic while responding to a DUI check with Patrol Officer Dan Solomita during their evening shift on Jan. 13, 2013.  <br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap
  • Hartford Patrol Officers Frederick Peyton, left, and Dan Solomita finish investigating a home in Quechee, Vt., after answering a call for a burglary alarm on Jan. 13, 2013. <br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap

Hartford — The Selectboard has voted to restore the position of police chief, ending a short-lived experiment that had one person overseeing both the police and fire departments.

Fire Chief Steven Locke has served for nearly a year as public safety director, a position that was created last winter following the retirement of Glenn Cutting, the town’s longtime police chief.

While the decision to create the new position was motivated in part by cost-cutting, the plan to revert back to the separate chiefs is expected to actually save nearly $90,000.

“Based on the current staff we have, this is the time to return to the more traditional approach,” Selectman Chuck Wooster said on Monday.

The board voted 5 to 2 last Thursday to restore the police chief position as part of the overall approval of a $2.4 million police administration budget. Under the plan, the police department would have a chief and a single deputy chief.

Selectmen Ken Parker and Alex DeFelice cast the votes against returning to separate chiefs.

“I believe that the public safety director concept works, and I think it’s worth continuing. But you have got to have the right individual in place,” Parker said. “And I happen to think we do have that.”

Locke, however, has gone on record in favor of eliminating the public safety director post he’s held since February, and Deputy Chief of Police Brad Vail concurred.

“I believe it is a step in a positive direction. (Locke) has often stated that he can manage the department, but could not lead it,” Vail wrote in an email to the Valley News on Monday. “He has done a great job in putting necessary systems in place and moving things forward. However, for the forward momentum to continue I feel there needs to be a dedicated police chief.”

Under the plan approved Thursday, Locke would remain in Hartford as fire chief. Vail said he would be interested in becoming police chief.

“If the opportunity arises, I will certainly apply for the position,” Vail wrote.

The change wouldn’t take effect until July 1, when the new budget year begins

In Town Manager Hunter Rieseberg’s original 2014-15 budget proposal, he suggested funding a police chief and two deputy chief positions. The board on Thursday decided to fund just one of the deputy positions, making the restructuring more palatable and saving the town thousands, Parker said.

“That would have been three top level leaders or managers in the department,” Parker said. “I’d rather put more boots on the ground than stars on the shoulder.”

Also Thursday night, the Selectboard, Locke and Rieseberg had a lengthy — and at times heated — discussion on what to do with rank-and-file police staffing. Currently, the department often works with just two patrol officers on the streets “60 to 70 percent” of the time, typically after 3 p.m., Locke said, according to a video of the meeting made by CATV.

“These are tough management decisions that we don’t like, and we cannot keep going the wrong way with the budget and expect the same delivery of service,” Locke said Thursday.

On Monday, Parker said that even though the board approved a proposed police budget, he nonetheless plans to raise the police staffing situation again at a budget workshop this week. Parker said he would propose an amendment to the $2.4 million police budget that would add two patrol positions, which Parker said would be a better arrangement for the town than continuing to paying significantly more in overtime each year than budgeted, as happens now.

For example, for the current fiscal year, which began July 1, the Police Department has $71,900 budgeted for overtime expenses, Vail wrote in an email. Halfway through the year, nearly $68,500 has already been spent. Parker said the projection is that by the end of June, overtime spending could swell to “$140,000 or $150,000.”

An entry-level patrol position, including benefits, costs about $65,000.

“I see a critical need for having a reduction of overtime and some of the reduction of overtime can fund at least one of the patrolman positions,” Parker said on Monday.

Selectman Alex DeFelice said last Thursday that he would be in favor of adding patrol officers.

Vail said when he joined the department in 1993, there were 12 patrol officers and that number is relatively unchanged.

“I do not feel that the department is staffed proportionately in line with the growth of the town, societal trends and increased call volumes,” Vail said. “Both the department and the community would benefit. Quite often we may have only two officers on duty, and if one officer is tied up, that leaves only one officer to not only patrol the entire town, but poses a safety risk dependent upon the nature of a call.”

Jordan Cuddemi can be reached at jcuddemi@vnews.com or 603-727-3248.