MADISON — Town officials have expressed support for a new staffing plan offered by the Somerset County Sheriff’s Office that they hope will address long-standing concerns with law enforcement coverage.

The Select Board decided this week to work with Sheriff Dale Lancaster as he determines a clearer cost for patrolling the town, which was previously estimated to be around $615,000 to $630,000. Under the terms of a new plan, taxpayers in Madison would be expected to dish out around half-a-million dollars to cover the expense.

The sheriff’s office earlier established a Madison division responsible for coverage of the town, but talk of restructuring that coverage began last fall because sheriff’s officials have struggled to fill the two deputy positions for the division. Those positions have remained open for at least a year.

Town Manager Tim Curtis said this week that many deputies will not agree to work strictly for the Madison division. Much of the coverage in town last month was provided by deputies who are not normally assigned to the area, he said.

Somerset County sheriff’s Deputy Chelsea Merry, center, and junior Iceiss Stonick greet each other Thursday at Madison Area Memorial High School. Merry is the school resource officer. Madison officials are working with the sheriff’s office on changes to the way the office patrols the town, but plans call for coverage to still include a school resource officer. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

“Since the town raises funds to cover the budget for four deputies and we currently employ only two, it does not cost any more to have another deputy assigned to cover an open shift (under the current model),” Curtis said.

“The current problem is that these Madison shifts are a low priority and sometimes go uncovered unless a deputy chooses to take an extra shift. In the new model, coverage of all Madison shifts will be given first priority,” he said.

Advertisement

This new model, which the Select Board supports, calls for staffing by four deputies, three of whom would work on a two-week rotating basis with their shifts assigned by the sheriff’s office.

The fourth position, the school resource officer for Madison-based School Administrative District 59, would remain the same and not rotate. This ensures coverage is always provided in town and that “more seasoned and mature” deputies would be responding to emergency calls, Curtis said.

He expects this approach to result in a 10% to 15% increase in the policing budget.

Voters in Madison approved a $3.45 million municipal budget in June, with a policing budget of $440,000.

The Madison Police Department was disbanded in 2015 and the Madison division of the sheriff’s office was formed to cover the town’s law enforcement needs. The town pays the county for operations and oversight as part of the agreement.

Somerset County sheriff’s Deputy Chelsea Merry walks into a classroom Thursday while working as a school resource officer at Madison Junior High School. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

The town in 2015 was facing several concerns, including the future of Madison Paper Co., which shuttered the following year, resulting in a property tax increase.

Selectman Ron Moody at a meeting Monday spoke in favor of shifting to the new model, citing the lack of interest in the law enforcement field and the need for better coverage around Madison.

“I want to see law enforcement taking care of people doing crimes, not misdemeanors,” Moody said. “I’m not for going back to (the current model), it’s not conducive to our coverage.”

Once Lancaster works up a final budget for the policing change, it will be presented to the town’s budget committee and will eventually be voted on at Town Meeting in June. If approved, the change would go into effect July 1.

Related Headlines


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.