TREMONT — Selectmen, noting the will of voters at the May 8 town elections, unanimously approved a motion Monday to discuss contracting with Southwest Harbor for law enforcement services.
Residents at the annual elections voted 181-89 to approve a ballot question asking if selectmen should be authorized to negotiate and enter into a contract with Southwest Harbor for law enforcement beginning Jan. 1, 2018. The question was placed on the ballot after selectmen were presented with a citizen petition signed by 89 of the town’s registered voters that called for a vote on the issue.
On Monday, Selectman Chris Eaton, in making the motion to discuss a law enforcement contract with Southwest Harbor, said he was doing so because of the overwhelming support shown by voters. The motion carried with almost no discussion.
The decision does not necessarily mean the town will enter into the contract. For one thing, Southwest Harbor does not have an offer on the table. Southwest Harbor Town Manager Don Lagrange has said that he would ask his Board of Selectmen if they wish to submit a proposal if asked by Tremont. On Tuesday afternoon, he said that the earliest the question could be considered is at a June 13 meeting.
Another issue is that the ballot question approved in Tremont calls for a three-year contract with costs not to exceed $105,000 for the first year, $108,000 the second and $111,000 for the third. Those figures were based on an offer Southwest Harbor made last year. The petitioners factored in slight increases, but the actual amounts won’t be known until, and if, the town receives a proposal.
As worded on the ballot, the law enforcement services would include criminal law, civil infractions, town ordinances and animal control.
Tremont is the only Mount Desert Island town without a police department. Law enforcement is provided by either the Hancock County Sheriff’s Office or the Maine State Police, depending on which agency has that coverage “slot” at the time. The town additionally contracts for “up to 30 hours” of exclusive coverage each week with the sheriff’s department. That amounts to about $90,000 annually.
The annual contract with the sheriff’s department went into effect on Jan. 1. Hancock County Sheriff Scott Kane has said that he changed the contract from 30 hours of coverage to “up to 30 hours” due to the uncertainty of how the town would vote on the Southwest Harbor issue. He explained he could not in good conscience hire a deputy without a guarantee that the Tremont job would continue past the end of the year.
The agreement with the sheriff’s department has a clause enabling either party to cancel the contract with 30 days notice. Tremont Town Manager Dana Reed told selectmen Monday that Kane has indicated he would like to cancel the contract as of July 1 if Southwest Harbor can begin coverage by that date.
Kane said Wednesday that he would like to continue the relationship the sheriff’s department has had with Tremont if a deal with Southwest Harbor doesn’t go through. If a deal is reached but Southwest Harbor is not immediately ready to take over in Tremont, Kane said he would try to fulfill the current contract.
“I would try to do the best I could,” he said.
Still, he added, he is taking a wait-and-see approach before weighing whether to pull out of the Tremont contract.
“Based on that, I’ll make my decision,” he said.