TREMONT — A citizen petition calling for the town to contract with Southwest Harbor for law enforcement services beginning in January 2018 was submitted last week at the town office.
Residents Marc Fink and Scott Grierson organized the petition drive in response to a vote by selectmen in December to renew the annual contract with the Hancock County Sheriff’s Department instead of accepting a proposal from Southwest Harbor.
Of the 100 signatures collected, 89 are from registered voters in the town and considered valid, according to Town Clerk Katie Dandurand. As a result, the number of signatures exceeded the 76 needed for a legally valid petition. State law requires that the number of signatures must be at least 10 percent of the number of votes cast in the town during the last gubernatorial election.
Fink said this week that he decided to work on collecting signatures because he feels the Southwest Harbor proposal was not given enough consideration.
“All I want is for the citizens of Tremont to have their say,” he said, “to hear both sides and vote on it.”
At the Dec. 15 meeting, selectmen voted 4-1 to renew the approximately $92,000 contract with the sheriff’s department for 32 hours of exclusive coverage each week. When a contract officer is not on duty, law enforcement coverage is split between the sheriff’s department and Maine State Police, depending of which agency is scheduled for that coverage “slot.”
In contrast, Southwest Harbor was offering a three-year contract for full-time coverage of the town, the enforcement of criminal complaints, civil infractions and certain town ordinances, and also to act as Tremont’s animal control officer. The first year of the contract would have cost $101,500 and increased to $103,804 and $106,316 for the second and third years, respectively.
The main distinction between the two agencies is that Southwest Harbor police would provide around-the-clock coverage. When a sheriff’s deputy isn’t on duty in Tremont, the response time during an emergency can often be lengthy. This fact was foremost in the minds of many who signed the petition, Fink said.
“The one thing I heard over and over again was the response time,” he said.
The proposal from Southwest Harbor doesn’t necessarily remain valid, according to Southwest Harbor Town Manager Don Lagrange. Selectmen would have to approve any contract between the towns. Still, he said, Southwest Harbor would consider a new request from Tremont.
The petition basically follows the wording of the original Southwest Harbor proposal with the exception that the fee amounts have been increased. As written, the amounts are not to exceed $105,000 for the first year, $108,000 for the second and $111,000 for the third.
Grierson said in an email that the decision to include a cap gives “a solid framework for negotiations” and “keeps the costs from becoming too high.”
The petition calls for an article for the selectmen to negotiate and enter into a contract with Southwest Harbor to be included on “the next warrant issued or to call a special town meeting within 60 days for its consideration. At this point, it is unclear when voters will get the chance to weigh in on the matter. Selectmen are expected to discuss the petition and possibly take action at their Feb. 6 meeting.