GOULDSBORO — The Gouldsboro Police Department stays, voters decided Tuesday.
Resident Becky Irwin filed a petition seeking to ask voters, “Shall the town vote to disband the Gouldsboro Police Department and contract with the Hancock County Sheriff’s Office for public safety services?” The question was on the ballot because she obtained 97 signatures, four more than the 93 required.
A total of 564 votes were cast during town elections Tuesday, with 395 voting “no” and 169 voting “yes,” according to Town Manager Sherri Cox.
“I think the petition and referendum was motivated for a purpose that was not for the betterment of the town and Gouldsboro,” Police Chief Tyler Dunbar said Wednesday morning. “Voters should be proud of themselves for recognizing that.”
Dunbar resigned his position June 12, citing a lack of political support from town government.
He added he is thankful for residents who voiced their support for the department since the filing of the petition.
Cox declined to comment. She tendered her resignation the day after Dunbar, making an announcement at the June 13 Board of Selectmen’s meeting. As per her contract, she gave the town two months notice. The only reason she gave was that she plans to spend future winters in Florida.
Irwin could not be reached for comment by press time. At an April 8 public hearing preceding the police vote, she declined to explain her reasons for filing the petition beyond saying, “I firmly believe this topic needs to be discussed.” She said the petition’s goal was to bring about a conversation.
Melinda Boumans, a resident who has advocated for dissolving the Police Department, declined to comment.
Dunbar and Hancock County Sheriff Scott Kane attended the hearing on the issue April 8 to answer questions from the more than 150 people in the audience. At the hearing, Kane said the cost of hiring a sheriff’s deputy, including salary and benefits, would be $40.88 per hour, which translates to $212,576 a year for 100 hours of coverage weekly. If the county were to provide vehicles, too, the cost would rise to $61.50 per hour.
The Gouldsboro Police Department had been providing 100 hours of weekly coverage. However, Dunbar’s resignation leaves the department with only one full-time officer, John Shively, and one part-time officer, Eli Brown. Dunbar’s last day was scheduled to be June 26.
Voters originally were anticipating going to the polls June 11, with Town Meeting scheduled for the following day. However, the town warrants that were posted had not been signed by the selectmen as required by law, forcing the town to reschedule the election and Town Meeting. The selectmen held two emergency meetings June 7 and 10, to discuss the matter and select new dates.
During the emergency meetings, residents pressed town officials for more solid figures on the costs of contracting with the county for police protection. The selectmen approved mailing to residents a cost comparison prepared by Cox. It went out June 14.
Cox had said previously that the figures quoted by Kane at the hearing did not include a raise the unionized county officers are likely to get in January, which could range from 2 percent to as much as 5 percent. When factoring in a 2 percent raise, Cox estimated the total cost for 100 hours of county coverage, including salaries, benefits, fuel, insurance, capital expenses and other expenses, would be $234,917. On top of that, the town would incur one-time costs of $2,500 for uniforms and $600 for vehicle detailing.
The proposed Police Department budget, which was scheduled for a vote at Wednesday night’s Town Meeting, is $209,065.
Also at the polls, residents chose candidates to fill three positions on the Board of Selectmen. Christopher Urquhart defeated Robert Youtt and Michael Bernier to fill the unexpired term of former Selectman Bill Thayer, who died in April. That two-year term will expire in 2021.
In the race for the other two spots on the board, incumbent Ernie West retained his seat for another three years. Voters chose Walter Moore for the spot vacated by Glenn Grant, who moved to Sorrento in October. The third candidate for the seats was Deborah Bisson.