Selectmen want public input on police coverage question

TREMONT — Residents are being asked to weigh in on options for law enforcement coverage here. Do they want a quicker response time or less expensive coverage?

A public hearing is scheduled for 5 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 19 in the meeting room at the town office to discuss whether to accept an offer for police coverage from the Southwest Harbor Police Department or to stick with the Hancock County Sheriff’s Office.

Currently, deputies from the sheriff’s office are contracted to cover the town exclusively for 30 hours per week. Any incidents outside that schedule are covered by Maine State Police or the sheriff’s office, depending on which agency has the coverage ‘slot’ at that time.

There is a mutual aid agreement with Southwest Harbor for assistance in incidents that require more coverage.

In the proposal offered by Southwest Harbor for 30 hours of coverage, the cost would be approximately $143,500 a year, with an additional $50/call charge for those answered outside contracted time.

Southwest Harbor Town Manager Justin VanDongen estimates that would be about 450 calls a year for an additional $22,500. The proposal is for a three-year contract in order to cover the cost of an additional cruiser and officer.

A full coverage contract, which would make Tremont part of the Southwest Harbor Police Department’s regular coverage area, was proposed at $270,000 per year. If Tremont decided to go with full-time coverage, that contract also would be for three years.

The Hancock County Sheriff’s Office charges Tremont $64 per hour for a 30-hour week, which is a cost of $99,800 for the year. While the town budgeted $94,380 for FY18, expenditures for the coverage were closer to $73,300 due to a shortage of deputies. A contract with the county would be for a year due to current union negotiations, according to Tremont Town Manager Chris Saunders.

“The county is always going to be less expensive,” VanDongen told selectmen.

He explained the lower cost of coverage from the county agency is because it is subsidized by county taxes.

“I don’t want to compete with that,” he said. “We’ll never be cheaper, I can guarantee you that.”

Jamie Thurlow, who chairs the Tremont Board of Selectmen, said he hasn’t heard complaints about the current police coverage for the town, but residents may want a faster response time.

“Residents may pay more to have the calls more quickly answered,” said Thurlow, “maybe they wouldn’t.”

More than one selectman said they were willing to vote on the contract during the Tuesday meeting, in favor of the less expensive option.

“Personally I think we should send it to the voters,” said Selectman Mike Mansolilli. “I feel very strongly about that.”

At the 2017 annual town meeting, Tremont voters approved 181-89 a warrant article authorizing selectmen to negotiate and enter into a three-year contract with Southwest Harbor for round-the-clock law enforcement services. A citizen petition collected enough signatures to put the article on the warrant.

But Southwest Harbor postponed offering Tremont a contract, while a feasability study of an island-wide police department was underway. At that point, Tremont entered into the current contract with the county department.

Sarah Hinckley

Sarah Hinckley

Former Islander reporter Sarah Hinckley covered the towns of Southwest Harbor, Tremont and neighboring islands.

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