GOULDSBORO — More than 150 residents attended a Monday night hearing to listen and ask questions about an effort to disband the Gouldsboro Police Department.
The hearing was scheduled after resident Becky Irwin filed a petition seeking to ask voters whether they want to dissolve the town’s police department and instead contract with the Hancock County Sheriff’s Office. Because the petition was signed by 97 residents, four more than the 93 required, the question will be on the Town Meeting ballot June 11.
“I firmly believe this topic needs to be discussed,” said Irwin, who was asked to explain her reasons for collecting signatures. “The goal of the petition was to bring about a conversation that has been brewing in this community for some time.”
When pressed for more information, she said she had nothing to add and wanted to hear presentations by Gouldsboro Police Chief Tyler Dunbar and Hancock County Sheriff Scott Kane.
Dunbar said the police budget for the 2018-19 fiscal year was about $207,000, which pays for two full-time officers and one part-time officer to work a total of up to 100 hours a week.
Kane said a sheriff’s deputy would cost $40.88 an hour or $89,289 a year for a 40-hour work week — less than half the hours that the Gouldsboro Police Department currently provides. Kane’s estimate covers the cost of a deputy’s salary, training and benefits. If the county also supplies and maintains police vehicles, the cost rises to $61.50 per hour or $134,316 annually to cover fuel, insurance and maintenance. The cost would go up if Gouldsboro wanted to contract for more deputies.
“We charge exact cost,” Kane said. “The county does not make any money off these contracts.”
In response to a question, Kane said contracted sheriff’s deputies would be dedicated to Gouldsboro.
“The only reason they would be called out of that community and out of that contract would be a life or death situation,” he said.
Another question concerned the costs of time spent doing paperwork.
Dunbar said he could not pinpoint the exact cost, saying officers often do paperwork on a laptop in the police cruiser.
“The reality is there’s a lot of things the officer needs to do. They can’t just patrol the entire shift,” he said.
Kane said he estimates paperwork takes about 30 percent of a deputy’s time.
One resident asked about the cost of time police spend outside of town.
Dunbar said the police department works with the District Attorney’s Office and other services in Ellsworth.
“There are a whole bunch of other departments and facilities that need to be used outside the town of Gouldsboro,” he said. “We spend as little time as possible outside Gouldsboro.”
Though many questions concerned costs, some residents questioned the quality of current law enforcement coverage.
“The police department is the second biggest expense in our town after education and it keeps on going up,” said resident Sue Ruffner.
She said local police treated her fairly when she was arrested but alleged that Dunbar failed to adequately address the issue when she was the victim of a crime.
Moderator Gary Hunt said personal issues were beyond the scope of the hearing and that Ruffner should take her complaints to the selectmen. The audience applauded.
Resident Avery Scott said the real issue is personal animosity toward Dunbar because of arrests he’s made.
“I can tell you firsthand, I have heard talk in this town,” said Scott. “You have people in this town that would spend a billion dollars a year, just to get rid of [Dunbar] … It’s not the budget … it’s personal.”
Scott said people who want a police officer to do his job but complain when he does it are “hypocrites.”
“You can’t ask that man to be a police officer and only take on certain individuals. It doesn’t work that way,” he said. “If you think it’s just a money problem, it isn’t.”
Members of the audience applauded.
Former Selectman Jim Watson expressed frustration because he said he did not hear enough concrete information at the hearing to make a decision about dissolving the police department. What he heard, instead, was dissatisfaction with Dunbar as chief, he said.
“Why do you want to get rid of the whole Police Department if you’re not happy with the chief?” he asked, and encouraged anyone dissatisfied to take the issue to the selectmen.
Resident Elliot Martin warned residents not to make a decision too quickly.
“If you decide to disband this police department, how hard is it going to be to reconstruct it?” he asked. “You know people. They’re never satisfied with anything.”
Correction: An earlier version of this article contained an error. The vote is scheduled for June 11.