SOUTHWEST HARBOR — Tremont residents will have to wait awhile longer before any proposal of law enforcement coverage by the Southwest Harbor Police Department is formally submitted. Selectmen here on Tuesday decided to speak with town officials in Mount Desert and Bar Harbor about the future possibility of an islandwide police department before considering whether to extend an offer to neighboring Tremont.
In May, voters in Tremont approved 181-89 a ballot question asking if selectmen should be authorized to negotiate and enter into a three-year contract with Southwest Harbor for the service, beginning Jan. 1, 2018. Tremont selectmen, noting the will of the voters, subsequently voted to discuss such a contract. Tremont currently has an annual contract with Hancock County Sheriff’s Office for “up to 30 hours” of exclusive coverage that expires at the end of the year.
The question was put on the ballot in Tremont by a citizen petition signed by 89 registered voters. Organizers of the petition drive began collecting signatures after the town’s selectmen, in December, voted to renew the annual contract with the sheriff’s department instead of accepting a proposal from Southwest Harbor. That proposal is no longer valid.
On Tuesday, Southwest Harbor Town Manager Don Lagrange told selectmen that a three-year contract is necessary due to the need to hire an additional officer and purchase a third police cruiser. Any contract would not be for a specified number of hours covering Tremont; instead Southwest Harbor police would patrol Tremont as part of their regular duties. Lagrange proposed that Tremont be billed $104,300 for the first year, with slight increases in the second and third years.
Lagrange suggested that it might be wise to speak with town officials in Bar Harbor and Mount Desert and the two towns’ joint police chief about an islandwide police force before submitting a formal proposal to Tremont. A concern was that any contract with Tremont could jeopardize that possibility.
“For me, it’s just understanding that it’s not going to hurt going toward an islandwide police system,” Selectman Dan Norwood said.
Southwest Harbor Police Chief Alan Brown was asked for his opinion and said he was not comfortable addressing the question. He did say contracting with Tremont would “allow us to increase the size of the department, which would be beneficial.”
Selectmen also questioned Lagrange’s proposed cost of the service. Chairman Tom Benson said the police department budget, including that for dispatch service, is $780,000 for this year.
“Tremont gets full coverage for $104,000; is that something you need to look at?” Benson asked.
Selectman Chad Terry said his estimate shows proposed cost doesn’t cover the expense to the town.
“I came up with $112,000 for just a police officer and a car,” he said.
Selectman George Jellison echoed calls for discussions with other towns before going forward with a proposal for Tremont and questioned the town’s ability to offer the service to Tremont by the end of the year.
“This isn’t something we can do by Jan. 1,” he said.
Benson agreed, saying, “I think it’s a complex issue.” He did note that having two officers on duty most of the time would be a benefit to Southwest Harbor.
No vote was taken. Lagrange and Brown are to gather additional information and share it with selectmen at a future meeting.