TREMONT — When given the choice to have Southwest Harbor’s Police Department cover their town, residents here voted nearly two to one to stay with county law enforcement coverage.
There were 80 votes cast by paper ballot during a special town meeting at the Tremont Town Office on Oct. 10. A single warrant article (besides election of a moderator for the meeting) asked residents if they wanted to negotiate and enter into a contract with their neighboring town’s police force. It was defeated by a vote of 51-29.
Frank Gray was elected moderator and about a half hour of discussion took place before one resident suggested getting on with the vote.
“I’d like to make a motion to move the question,” said resident Amy Murphy. “Everybody came here already knowing how they’re going to vote.”
In the three-year proposal from Southwest Harbor, 30 hours of police coverage per week would cost $143,000 per year. That amount did not include a per-service-call fee of $50 for any calls addressed outside of the 30 hour time frame.
The Hancock County Sheriff’s Office charges Tremont $64 per hour of coverage and is currently contracted to work 30 hours a week for the town. If the sheriff’s office works all 30 hours of the contract, the total for the year is $99,800. Sheriff Scott Kane said that amount is roughly $1,500 more than the previous year’s contract.
“We charge you what it costs us,” said Kane during the meeting. “We don’t charge any more than what the cost of the officer, health insurance, those types of things [is].”
More than one resident asked how the $50,000 difference between contracts would affect tax bills if the town opted to go with Southwest Harbor. The extra cost would add about ten cents to the mill rate, or $25 to the annual tax bill for the owner of a property assessed at $250,000.
Several people had personal stories about long response times when calling the sheriff’s office. One woman talked about reporting someone breaking into her home on two different occasions and not getting any response from the sheriff office. Another woman spoke about a violent man on her street who threw a rock at a car and it took two hours and 45 minutes for state police to respond.
Deputies from the sheriff’s office are contracted to cover the town exclusively for 30 hours per week. Outside that schedule, the town is covered by Maine State Police or the sheriff’s office, depending on which agency has the coverage ‘slot’ at that time under a call-sharing agreement.
“Many times we get blamed because that call comes into us,” said Kane. “We call share with the state police … If they were covering that and they felt this was an emergency and they had called us, we would have sent someone.
“I will tell you we would have been there a lot sooner than two hours and 45 minutes,” he continued. “We respond to all the calls we get.”
Tremont is the only town on Mount Desert Island that does not have its own police department. Town officials have asked Southwest Harbor in previous years for a proposal for police coverage from its department.
At the end of 2016, Tremont requested a proposal for 24-hour coverage from Southwest Harbor. In June 2017, Southwest Harbor’s Board of Selectmen decided to explore the possibility of an island-wide police department before offering a coverage contract for Tremont.
At the meeting Thursday, some residents asked why the vote went to a special town meeting in October, rather than the November election or the regular Town Meeting in May.
There was not enough time to get it included on the written ballot for the November election, town officials had said at previous meetings.
At the meeting resident Keith Higgins requested the vote be done by paper ballot when it came time to make the decision.
The Hancock County Sheriff’s Office operates on a calendar year fiscal year schedule while the town operates on a July 1-June 30 fiscal year schedule.
Town Manager Chris Saunders explained to one resident that money was available to cover the discrepancy in funding if the town chose to go with the Southwest Harbor option.