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Cash-Strapped Town Disbands Police Department

September 19, 1992

CLARKSBURG, Mass. (AP) _ This cash-strapped mountain town has disbanded its six-officer police department because of a lack of money.

″We’re out of funds,″ said Selectman Edward Denault. He said the lone police cruiser needs repairs and the officers require training that the town can’t afford.

Since May, town residents have voted three times to reject overrides of the state tax cap to help fund local schools and government departments.

The town’s police officers, unpaid for three months, finally resigned en masse in June but returned a month later when a private donor gave $1,000 for their wages. Another $1,000 of town reserve money extended their service.

But selectmen laid off the entire part-time department Friday.

Officials in the town of 1,600 residents on the Vermont line already had withdrawn the town’s $11,000 share of fire department costs, forcing the volunteer firefighters to depend on their own resources to improve equipment.

Selectmen also told the electric company to turn off the street lights. But when the utility said it needed to recoup its installation costs and would charge $33,000 to shut off the lights, officials pleaded poverty.

″If we had $33,000, we wouldn’t turn them off,″ said Forist McLain, the chief selectman. The lights remain on for now.

Like many towns in the region, the Berkshire Mountain community has struggled with sluggish growth, a 30 percent drop in state aid over six years and hundreds of layoffs.

Town taxes already are relatively high for the area at $12.68 per $1,000 of assessed valuation. If the latest override rejected by voters in August had passed, the tax on a house worth $80,000 would increase by $127.

In light of the money crunch, many residents believe a local police force is unnecessary.

But town officials say they are worried because state police take up to 45 minutes to respond to Clarksburg calls, while local police usually arrive in 10 minutes. McLain said the delay ″could be disastrous in an emergency.″

Officials hope to gain $17,000 in emergency state aid to restore police service, he said.

Marilyn Browne, a staffer at the state Division of Local Services, said her office had no target date for deciding which communities will get a share of the $1.5 million set aside by the Legislature.

Police Chief Mark Denault, who has an unlisted phone number, could not be reached Friday. But Denault, who is unrelated to the selectman, complained about public support in comments a few weeks ago.

″I think people don’t believe they need a police department until they need us,″ he said.

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