TREMONT — A public hearing next week will give residents a chance to ask questions and comment on an article on the May town meeting warrant that would have the town enter a three-year contract with Southwest Harbor for law enforcement services.
The hearing is scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday in the town office meeting room.
Selectmen put the article on the warrant for the May 8 elections after being presented with a petition signed by 89 Tremont residents calling for a vote on the issue. The town now has an annual contract with the Hancock County Sheriff’s Office for up to 30 hours of exclusive coverage.
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 contract would be for enforcement of criminal laws, civil infractions, town ordinances and animal control.
Southwest Harbor brought a similar proposal to the Board of Selectmen in December. The board rejected that proposal 4-1 in favor of signing another annual contract with the sheriff’s department. That contract expires Dec. 31.
In response to the selectmen’s decision, residents Scott Grierson and Marc Fink initiated the petition.
The current contract with the sheriff’s department is for $60 per hour or about $93,600 annually.
Proponents of contracting with Southwest Harbor argue that it is a safety issue. Southwest Harbor would have a police presence in the town on a full-time basis. With the sheriff’s department, Tremont is guaranteed only up to 30 hours of exclusive coverage.
The faster response offered by Southwest Harbor is a driving force behind the petition. When a contract deputy is not in town, law enforcement coverage in Tremont is split between the sheriff’s department and Maine State Police on a rotating basis. As a result, the response time to emergencies in Tremont can be lengthy; the responding officer might be an hour drive away when a call comes in.
The Southwest Harbor proposal under consideration in December was for a three-year contract, a term Southwest Harbor Town Manager Don Lagrange said is necessary for the town to offer the coverage. The first year of the contract would have cost $101,500, $9,460 more than the current contract with the sheriff’s department. The cost would increase to $103,804 and $106,316 for the second and third years, respectively.
Southwest Harbor police would respond to criminal complaints, civil infractions and enforce Tremont’s town ordinances. The police department also would act at Tremont’s animal control officer which, according to Tremont Town Manager Dana Reed, would save the town an additional $4,319 annually.
Lagrange said this week that the proposal is no longer on the table. If voters approve the warrant article, he would then present a new proposal to selectmen, who would make the final decision on whether to offer it to Tremont. Lagrange said he expects any new proposal to be similar to the old offer but will review costs to make sure his numbers are accurate.
“I need to confirm I’m on good footing here,” he said.
The cost caps set on dollar amounts in the warrant article are higher than in the original Southwest Harbor proposal to cover any small increases in a new proposal, Grierson has said.
Until this year, the contract with the sheriff’s department has been for 30 hours of coverage each week. The contract in effect is for “up to 30 hours” of coverage. Sheriff Scott Kane made the change in response to the petition and the loss of a deputy who left to join the state police. He has said that he cannot in good conscience hire a replacement with the uncertainty of whether that person will have a job at the end of the year.