TREMONT — Selectmen last week decided not to wait for neighboring Southwest Harbor to offer a proposal for law enforcement coverage, voting unanimously to ask the Hancock County Sheriff’s Office for a three-year contract for 30 hours of exclusive coverage each week.
The move follows a decision last week by the Southwest Harbor Board of Selectmen to delay offering a contract to Tremont while determining the effect the offer could have on partnering with other police departments on the island. Consolidating police departments and other municipal services has been under discussion for years. Recently, the Bar Harbor and Mount Desert police departments took the first step in that direction, merging under an agreement by both towns.
On Monday in Tremont, Town Manager Dana Reed told selectmen he spoke with Southwest Harbor Town Manager Don Lagrange about his board’s decision. While a proposal isn’t out of the question, Reed said Lagrange told him selectmen didn’t want to “do something that would interfere” with going forward with an islandwide police force.
Chairman Kevin Buck expressed skepticism.
“I find it hard to believe any contract we sign would affect any islandwide department in the future,” Buck said.
Tremont is the only island town without its own police department. Law enforcement coverage falls to either the sheriff’s department or Maine State Police, depending on which agency has that “slot” at the time under a call-sharing agreement. Tremont has been contracting, and continues to contract, with the sheriff’s department for exclusive coverage.
In December, weeks before the annual contract with the sheriff’s department expired on Jan. 1, selectmen voted to approve another year of that contract instead of taking up an offer from Southwest Harbor for three years of law enforcement coverage from Southwest Harbor. That decision later led to a citizen petition that put a question on the ballot at the May 8 town meeting elections asking voters if selectmen should be authorized to negotiate and enter into a three-year contract with Southwest Harbor for the service, beginning Jan. 1, 2018. The question passed 181-89. A week later, selectmen voted to ask Southwest Harbor for another proposal.
The contract with the sheriff’s department was for 30 hours of exclusive weekly coverage where a deputy would be patrolling the town. For this year, the coverage was amended to “up to 30 hours” after Sheriff Scott Kane said he was unwilling to hire a deputy with the uncertainty as to whether that person would have a job at the end of the year if Tremont decided to contract with Southwest Harbor. The town is billed at $60 per hour.
Kane since informed the town that he would like to get out of the contract because, without an extra deputy, he was using his overtime budget to fill shifts in Tremont.
Selectmen made no mention of whether this development was a factor in their decision.