BAR HARBOR — The Bar Harbor Town Council voted Tuesday night to restructure the harbor department, merging it with the police department, and to appoint Bar Harbor police special services Sergeant Chris Wharff to be the new harbormaster starting next month.
With longtime Harbormaster Charlie Phippen set to retire in May, police Chief James Willis proposed integrating the harbor department with the police department and adding the harbormaster duties to the current special services sergeant job, the latter of which is currently seasonal.
The new position would be full-time and responsible for managing parking, cruise activities and the harbormaster’s current duties. In the winter months, the harbormaster could also fill shifts in the police patrol position.
A clerical position would be added to the harbormaster’s office and they too could be cross-trained as a police dispatcher.
The harbormaster position currently does have a law enforcement component; it’s certified by the Maine Criminal Justice Academy and has all the same annual training as a police officer.
But some of the council members balked at the idea of making the harbormaster officially part of the police department.
“I’m not sure combining this into one superposition is the right way to go,” said council member Erin Cough.
Valerie Peacock, another council member who used to work in the harbor department, felt that the jobs should remain separate and had concerns about one person overseeing parking and harbormaster duties, which get busy at the same time of the year.
“It’s just not a police department thing in my mind,” she said of the harbormaster job.
Phippen helped develop the plan and said that many municipalities in southern Maine had already moved in the same direction.
He said it would be easier to train a full-time police officer to become a harbormaster than to have a new harbormaster candidate be able to keep up all the training required to be a law enforcement officer.
“I feel like you’re not going to get a candidate that’s not a full-time police officer to be able to obtain those qualifications for the job in this day and age,” Phippen said.
Maine doesn’t require harbormasters to be trained police officers and Cough wondered if it wouldn’t be better to take the police component out altogether.
But other council members wanted to give the proposal a chance.
“I think it’s worth a try,” said Joe Minutolo.
In the end, the proposal won out by a vote of 4-3, with Cough, Peacock and Matthew Hochman voting against it, though they said it was not personal to Wharff.
He will resume the job on May 15.
The new job will be funded through the current harbormaster position and the estimated overtime cost savings in the police budget. The clerical position will be paid for through a seasonal parking enforcement position, half a finance clerk’s position and a part-time finance position.