A white SUV with red lettering and blue lights on top may be the most visible representation of the Lamoille County Sheriff’s Department, but it accounts for only about a third of what the department does.
And the money the department collects from the towns where it provides full-time police coverage is only a small portion of the revenue the department collects.
Vermont State Auditor Doug Hoffer has compiled a comprehensive list of revenue sources for each of the state’s 14 sheriff’s departments. Lamoille brought in more than $3.5 million from contracts and grants in the 2018 fiscal year, only a third of which goes to the most visible sheriff’s operations.
The department has two different budgets, one financed by the towns it serves and one by the various contracts Sheriff Roger Marcoux has spent nearly two decades cultivating.
Bennington County had 111 contracts, nearly three times as many contracts as Lamoille. But Bennington only brought in $1.2 million, less than half what Lamoille brought in.
Marcoux said he’s proud of what he’s built the department into over the past two decades, but denied he’s doing it to build himself an empire.
Vermont law allows all sheriff’s department to use 5 percent of their contracts for administrative costs, and there are next to no rules how that can be used. Marcoux said he uses his 5 percent for other things not covered by the contracts, like purchasing extra vans for the transports, and even unrelated initiatives, like the yellow house in Hyde Park village he helped turn into a homeless shelter.
Along with typical police duties, the department runs one of the largest dispatch centers in the state, handling 911 calls for Lamoille County’s police, fire and rescue departments and numerous other agencies outside the county.
It also has a robust side gig doing contract work for mental health agencies, transporting people and keeping watch over them, although proposed state budget cuts may curtail those services.
“There are some cops that are good with people and some that aren’t,” Marcoux said, talking about the cadre of part-time, semiretired officers he employs to work those special shifts. “We’ve got people people.”
The sheriff’s department has a budget for its patrol division — the deputies who conduct traffic stops and investigate crimes — that is financed largely by the towns it patrols. The budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1 is $1.2 million, up 5.9 percent from current spending.
Most of that money comes from the three towns where the sheriff’s department provides primary police coverage — Johnson, Hyde Park and Wolcott. Earlier this year, Marcoux went to all three to make his annual pitch to continue the policing duties, and each town’s municipal budget includes the fees that go to the sheriff’s department.
Johnson provides the largest share, with $467,729 allocated for next year. Wolcott, as the least populous of the three towns, pays the least, $225,216. Hyde Park pays $408,372.
The sheriff’s department patrol budget is fairly straightforward, with revenue from only six sources. In addition to the three main towns, Elmore chips in $15,514 for some patrols, Lamoille Union High School pays $81,500 for the full-time school resource officer assigned there, and Laraway School in Johnson provides $12,000 for some eyes there, too.
An additional $1.2 million goes toward the sheriff’s department’s communications budget, and the revenue picture there is more complicated.
Although Hoffer’s audit reflects the previous fiscal year’s revenue, it paints a good picture of where that money comes from.
For instance, 13 towns paid the Lamoille County Sheriff’s Department for dispatch services — all 10 towns in the county, plus Barre Town, Hardwick and Greensboro. The amount paid by each town was directly related to that town’s population or level of activity.
Stowe, which has its own police department, paid the sheriff’s department $268,000; Morristown, which also has its own police force, paid $142,000.
Morristown-based Union Bank contributed almost $15,000, and Ben & Jerry’s and Cold Hollow Cider Mill in Waterbury Center added nearly $4,000 between them. And a small garage door company in Hyde Park even added $1,200.
All told, the sheriff’s department had 40 contracts, a mix of municipal, state and private entities, bring in nearly $3.3 million. An additional $252,000 came from grants.
Much of that revenue supports the third sheriff’s department budget, for transports and “special overtime,” what the department calls “sit-watches.”
As the name implies, Marcoux has numerous part-time, semi-retired police officers who watch over psychiatric patients in hospital emergency rooms. Hospitals often prefer to have cops, who are trained in quelling any violence, lest the occasion arise. But some state officials are saying the practice is problematic, and perhaps violates practices laid out by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, a part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Vermont’s Mental Health Commissioner Sarah Squirrel told VTDigger last month that “sheriffs are not allowed to physically intervene with (patients) in emergency rooms, and that is something that CMS is paying attention to.”
VTDigger also reports, however, that the Vermont Association of Hospitals and Health Systems says the change could exacerbate problems for hospital emergency staff who are “already under significant stress” due to an influx of psychiatric patients.
Hoffer’s audit shows that, last fiscal year, Lamoille County Sheriff’s Department brought in $421,624 from a contract with the state for mental health services, and $156,000 from the different transport contracts.
Marcoux calls the mental health transports — as well as contractual transports with the Department for Children and Families — “dignified transports.” The drivers use unmarked minivans, so there’s not the stigma of getting into and out of a police cruiser when you didn’t break any laws.