TREMONT — Voters will decide by secret ballot if the town should enter a three-year contract with Southwest Harbor for law enforcement protection instead of renewing a contract with the Hancock County Sheriff’s Office.
Selectmen on Monday voted 5-0 to place a citizens’ petition to contract with Southwest Harbor on the warrant for the May annual town meeting. Selectmen, citing the larger turnout for the town elections, decided the issue should be determined at the ballot box and not on the floor of the open town meeting.
The citizens’ petition, organized by residents Scott Grierson and Marc Fink, was in response to a 4-1 decision by selectmen in December to enter into another one-year contract with the sheriff’s department instead of accepting a proposal from Southwest Harbor.
Proponents of the Southwest Harbor plan argued that police there, unlike the sheriff’s department, were offering around-the-clock coverage and a quicker response to emergencies.
Tremont does not have its own police department. The contract with the sheriff’s department is for 30 hours of exclusive coverage each week at a cost of about $92,000 annually.
The petition, signed by 89 registered Tremont voters, met the legal requirements for a citizens’ petition. As such, selectmen had no choice but to put the issue to a vote.
The question facing voters is whether the town should enter into a three-year contract with Southwest Harbor for law enforcement services beginning Jan. 1, 2018 at a cost not to exceed $105,000 the first year, $108,000 the second and $111,000 for the third.
The cap set by the petition exceeds the annual costs in the Southwest Harbor proposal selectmen rejected in December. Southwest Harbor was offering to provide the service for $101,500 for the first year, $103,804 the second and $106,316 the third. Grierson has said the caps were set to allow for small increases in any new proposal from Southwest Harbor.
Hancock County Sheriff Scott Kane attended the meeting Monday and reiterated claims he made in December where selectmen elected to enter into another one-year contract with the sheriff’s department. That contract runs from Jan. 1 through Dec. 31.
Kane said the uncertainty of whether the sheriff’s department would have the contract for next year put him in “a tough place.” He explained he had to fill a vacant position in order to provide the service to Tremont.
“I’m going to have to hire someone and lay them off at the end of December,” he said. This makes it difficult to attract suitable candidates.
Kane said he would ask for a multi-year contract.
“I’d be willing to submit a three-year contract just like Southwest Harbor,” he said.
Town Manager Dana Reed reminded Kane that selectmen already voted to grant the sheriff’s department a one-year contract that was to begin Jan. 1.
“I’ve been waiting for that,” Reed said.
Kane said he put the contract on hold when he learned of the petition.
“When I heard this was going to come back around again, I put the brakes on everything,” Kane said.
Pressed by Reed, Kane agreed to offer a one-year contract for this year but again expressed doubts about his ability to hire another deputy given there is no guarantee the job would last more than a year. He agreed to send a proposal to the town.
“I’m not going to leave you people in a lurch,” Kane said.