Gouldsboro to host forum on possible police merger

GOULDSBORO — Town officials will host a public discussion about the possibility of combining the Gouldsboro and Winter Harbor police departments on Wednesday, Feb. 21, at 6 p.m.

The session, which will take place at the Prospect Harbor Women’s Club at 63 Main St., will be the second in a set of public hearings devoted to the topic. The first took place on Dec. 13 in Winter Harbor.

The first meeting was a joint session held by the Winter Harbor and Gouldsboro selectmen. About 40 community members attended. Gouldsboro Police Chief Tyler Dunbar and Winter Harbor Police Chief Danny Mitchell provided an hour-long PowerPoint presentation highlighting what the chiefs say are the plan’s benefits — expanded coverage area, increased competition in recruiting officers and an improved budget.

“We’re mainly just trying to get public input on the idea,” Gouldsboro Town Manager Bryan Kaenrath said.

Public reception to the idea was positive, Kaenrath said, pointing out that ultimately voters from the two towns will decide on whether to adopt the plan. If the selectmen from the two towns agree, the issue will go to a vote during each town’s annual meeting later this year.

“There was a lot of conversation,” said Winter Harbor Selectman Billy Bob Faulkingham. “It’s got a lot of work ahead of it, I think. You can’t just conceive of something and make it happen. We’ve got a long way to go, but we’ll get there.”

Faulkingham said he’s in favor of the plan and appreciates the work Mitchell and Dunbar are putting in. He’s just concerned about whether it will save money.

Originally, the plan was meant to save the two towns costs by eliminating administrative redundancies. But Faulkingham said the addition of some full-time staff made it closer to cost-neutral rather than cost-saving. Still, he said, he was in support of the idea.

“My objective is to help craft the best plan I can,” he said. “This is a collaborative effort with their police force, our police force, their selectboard, our selectboard and the public.”

Faulkingham said members of the public had some great input and questions at the last meeting.

For Winter Harbor Selectman Kylie Bragdon, the event was a chance to understand what needs to be improved in the plan.

“I think as a whole, a lot of great details were provided at that meeting,” she said. But she said many community members are concerned about a lack of details. People were split, she said, and weren’t sure how this could be pulled off.

Some of the details that were unclear, she said, included costs and scheduling. Bragdon, a Ph.D. candidate, conducted her doctoral research on community organization and restructuring. She offered her help to Dunbar and Mitchell after that first meeting in providing some support in that area.

“I think it’s going to take a lot of collaborative work between all of the community members,” Bragdon said.

Dunbar said the plan was met positively at the meeting.

“What people need to keep in mind is that everything is not going to be 100 percent set in stone,” he said. “There’s probably going to be some fine-tuning.”

That fine-tuning, according to Dunbar, is based on questions people brought up during the 2-hour session.

For Mitchell, the event was a good opportunity to provide details to the community about the plan.

He said some people may have come in questioning the plan or not in favor of it, but he thinks he and Dunbar answered questions well.

The transition for the two communities is a natural one, he said, and the meeting helped show that.

“The only difference between a Gouldsboro resident and a Winter Harbor resident is the town line,” Mitchell said. “We work together already.”

Jack Dodson
Jack Dodson began working for The Ellsworth American in mid-2017, and covers eastern Hancock and western Washington counties. He grew up in the Mid-coast region before living in New York City for five years, where he freelanced in documentary filmmaking and journalism. He is particularly interested in criminal justice, environment and immigration reporting.

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