GOULDSBORO — Gouldsboro officials are considering their options for the future of the town police department.
Former Police Chief Tyler Dunbar resigned June 12 from the three-man force. Since then, the town’s remaining full-time officer, John Shively, has been running the department as well as continuing to work on patrol. The department also has a part-time officer, Eli Brown.
Attempts to hire another officer so far have been unsuccessful, said Shively.
“We’ve been very fortunate with John [Shively],” said Dana Rice, chairman of the Gouldsboro Board of Selectmen, at a workshop meeting Oct. 8.
“He’s probably kept the wheels on the wagon for us,” said Selectman Ernie West.
However, Edward J. Tolan, executive director of the Maine Chiefs of Police Association, said the duties Shively has been handling are “too much to expect” for any single person.
Rice, who invited Tolan to the workshop, said some residents think the town doesn’t need a police department at all. Others, however, believe the police should provide round-the-clock coverage rather than an average of 100 hours a week as is currently budgeted.
Residents in June voted against a measure that would have disbanded the Police Department.
Tolan, who retired last year as chief of the Falmouth Police Department, said there’s no way the town can provide full coverage on its current budget of about $209,000 annually.
“You’ve got to step up to the plate. Your budget’s going to have to go up considerably,” he said.
Additional salaries, uniforms, equipment, benefits and training would probably at least double the current budget, he said.
A police vehicle alone costs a minimum of $32,000 and, Shively said, that figure doesn’t cover police lights, radios or other equipment.
Tolan said unexpected circumstances also can drive up costs. The town of Dixfield, which has about 2,500 residents, provides 24-hour coverage with four officers and a chief. When the chief resigned to take a position elsewhere and another officer was out of work due to injury, the other three officers had to work considerable overtime to maintain coverage.
“It ain’t happening,” Selectman Christopher Urquhart said, adding he is not willing to pay the taxes required to provide that level of coverage.
“I’m just exploring this full-time coverage,” said Rice.
Regardless of the size of the department, the town will face hiring challenges, Tolan said. Applications are down all over the state. A position that would have attracted 150 applicants in the 1990s may draw only about 30 now.
Another consideration is pay. If officers’ wages aren’t competitive, there will be fewer applicants.
“I would rather have a smaller department with people that are dedicated to the town and dedicated to the people,” said Rice. Saying he “won’t micromanage,” he added, “I’ll make sure the Police Department is a part of the town.”
“That’s the key to any police department,” Tolan said, adding police should be involved in community events and be visible in schools. “That’s very important because the community knows they’re not just out there writing tickets.”
Tolan recommended the town start by hiring a chief at a pay rate comparable to what police chiefs are paid in similar departments. He suggested the town contact the Maine Municipal Association for police chief salary information.
“The key is to get a good leader,” Tolan said. “You have to find a chief. It could be John [Shively].”