MOUNT DESERT — The towns of Mount Desert and Bar Harbor appear to be moving closer to having a single police department.
The two towns have shared a police chief since 2013, and since then, there has been a consolidation of both administrative and public service functions to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the two departments. For example, officers in each department now routinely patrol and respond to calls in both towns.
In December, the Mount Desert Select Board approved a five-year extension of the Employee Leasing Agreement between the two towns that includes these goals for Chief Jim Willis:
“Study the feasibility of centralizing employment of both agencies employees.”
“Conduct strategic planning to assist with the future planning for integrating the agencies to a unified agency providing services to both communities.”
“Study the feasibility of facility consolidation.”
The Bar Harbor Town Council was to vote on the new agreement Tuesday night.
Under the lease agreement, Mount Desert will continue to share its police chief with Bar Harbor, and Bar Harbor will continue to share the chief’s administrative assistant, Karen Richter, with Mount Desert. The new leasing agreement adds the sharing of Bar Harbor Capt. David Kerns as second in command for both departments as well as acting chief in Willis’ absence.
In the past, the personnel sharing agreement has generally been for one or two years. This time, it is to be in effect for five years. And the agreement no longer calls for its immediate termination if Willis is no longer employed by Mount Desert.
“The goal is to keep the agreement and our combined agencies functional in the event any of us are not here due to retirement, illness, or some other factor,” the agreement states.
“That is to ensure that the level of service the communities are used to continues uninterrupted,” Willis told the Select Board.
Previously, the agreement provided that either town could cancel the agreement with 30 days’ notice. That is being extended to 90 days.
“Lengthening the termination notice is intended to allow each community (more time) to figure out what they want to do, i.e., continue with the existing agreement, do a new agreement or something else if personnel change,” the agreement explains. “Many of the things we’ve combined over the past eight years would be very complex and time consuming to separate.”
In addition to those already noted, the goals for the police chief over the next five years of the agreement include:
“Continue information technology integration to include records management systems, software, hardware and secure remote access capabilities.”
“Continue progress regarding radio frequency/channel consolidation for public safety dispatching.”
“Study the feasibility of dispatch consolidation between the three MDI towns currently providing public safety dispatching services.”
Those towns are Bar Harbor, Mount Desert and Southwest Harbor.