GOULDSBORO — Selectmen are focused on finding a new police chief after voters overwhelmingly nixed their recommendation to disband the town’s troubled police department at the annual Town Meeting June 9. A majority also rejected granting selectmen the option to contract with the Hancock County Sheriff’s Office. Most of the estimated 180 voters in attendance preferred having police officers who know the community and can be relied on to provide prompt response to emergencies and handle day-to-day issues such as checking on someone’s well-being or rounding up a dog at large.
In the 36-article warrant, Mariela “Cookie” Church made a motion, seconded and approved by voters, to take Article 29 out of order and vote first on whether to disband the police force. Article 28 asked voters to give selectmen the option to contract with the Sheriff’s Office. Both were shot down in a voice vote, the former drawing thunderous applause.
“East of Ellsworth, Gouldsboro and Winter Harbor are the only [Hancock County] towns that have their own police department,” Gouldsboro resident Ray Jones noted, observing that that Franklin, Hancock and Sullivan rely on the Sheriff’s Office for police protection paid for through their annual Hancock County tax assessment. He asked, “Why do we have to go through this every few years because we don’t like our police department?”
“I cannot say enough about our police department. Nothing is better than to see familiar faces at the scene,” Schoodic EMS emergency medical technician Danielle Picard told voters. She also praised Gouldsboro Police Officer Adam Brackett for checking on her well-being at an accident scene before he went off duty. “He checked on me to see if I was OK.”
Former Gouldsboro Selectman Jim Watson said he did a lot of hiring during his years running Young’s Market. Some hires turned out to be poor choices, but “he didn’t close the store and go home.” Maybe, he said, “we need to do a better job interviewing our police chiefs and officers.”
As of this week, selectmen had received multiple applications from candidates to succeed former Police Chief John Shively and lead the Police Department. The department’s proposed 2021-22 budget of $273,037 was reduced by $40,000 — a 14.65 percent decrease — by voters in a 71-59 vote at the meeting. For the coming year, the town had budgeted for the police chief’s position and two full-time officers. While many were adamant about keeping the police force, many voters thought two officers was enough. At present, Brackett is still employed full time following the departures of Shively and former Officer Eli Brown. The town is conducting a far-reaching search for a new police chief in Maine newspapers and through LinkedIn, the Maine Municipal Association, International City/County Management Association, the Massachusetts Police Association, the New England Association of Chiefs of Police and the New York State City/Council Management Association.
In another personnel-related cut, in a 62-58 vote, voters rejected selectmen’s recommendation to raise up to $20,000 — on top of the up to $80,000 already budgeted for the town manager’s salary (not including FICA, Medicare and retirement) — in order to attract a broad field of candidates and have greater flexibility in negotiations. Past searches have shown that potential, qualified and experienced candidates won’t even apply if the annual salary isn’t at least $80,000, town officials said.
“It gives that latitude for negotiations to get the right person,” explained Town Manager Andrea Sirois, whose salary is $52,000.
Minus the police force and town manager-related cuts, and a $125 reduction in the town’s contribution to Eastern Area Agency on Aging, voters passed Gouldsboro’s proposed 2022 operating budget of $1.935 million, a 5.16 percent rise over the $1.835 million budgeted for this fiscal year. That does not include the town’s share of Regional School Unit 24’s education expenses totaling $3.053 million, a 1.72 percent decline over $3.106 million, and projected Hancock County taxes of $209,374, which represent a 4.23 percent rise over $200,865. Before Town Meeting, the mill rate was estimated to increase to 10.75 compared to 10.45 this past year.
To reduce the impact on tax bills, voters approved two separate warrant articles appropriating up to $100,000 from the town’s land purchase reserve and up to $100,000 from the undesignated surplus fund to offset property taxes.
Also at Town Meeting, following a shouting match between two men, voters authorized selectmen to draft a noise ordinance to be presented at the 2022 annual town meeting. Selectmen had recommended that such an ordinance be researched and drawn up after they received repeated complaints of alleged excessive use of Tannerite, a legal brand of explosion kit used for target shooting, in a section of Corea village. Last fall, Board of Selectmen Chairman Dana Rice and Shively together had gone and spoken to the property owner after multiple citizen complaints. He said they were assured that the problem would be addressed, but that was not the case.
“Last year, we had complaints of excessive noise. Residents have been to the board four times,” Rice told voters. “It is a very difficult ordinance to come up with. We are going to take a year and bring it back to voters about whether it is appropriate.”