GOULDSBORO — Voters once again will decide whether their town should continue to have its own police department or contract for law enforcement services from the Hancock County Sheriff’s Department at the annual Town Meeting June 9.
The persistent issue resurfaces in the wake of Police Chief John Shively’s May 4 resignation. Citing unfounded complaints lodged against him, Shively makes the town’s third police chief in six years.
At their May 6 meeting, selectmen voted 2-1 with one abstention to draft a warrant article asking voters to permit the board “the option of entering into a contract for police coverage” for the town of Gouldsboro with the Hancock County Sheriff’s Department.
Board Chairman Dana Rice and Selectman Ernie West voted for the warrant article while Selectman Chris Urquhart, whose term expires this year, voted against it. Selectman Cheri Robinson, whose term also is up, abstained.
“My personal opinion is the board should have that option,” Rice said Friday, indicating that he would take his cue from voters’ ultimate approval or disapproval June 9.
This same scenario unfolding for the 2021 Town Meeting occurred in 2019. In keeping with a majority of voters’ wishes that year, selectmen kept the Police Department following annual Town Meeting, where townspeople voted 564-395 on not to disband the Police Department or contract for police protection with the Hancock County Sheriff’s Department. The referendum vote resulted from a 97-signature petition drive. At the time, a few petitioners expressed dissatisfaction with then Police Chief Tyler Dunbar’s handling of cases while others questioned the rising cost of law enforcement coverage in town. Dunbar resigned before the issue was settled at Town Meeting.
Prior to Dunbar’s hiring in 2016, former Police Chief Paul Gamble was fired by selectmen before completing his six-month probation. Nearly a year later, Gamble reached a $67,500 settlement with the town. The Maine Municipal Association (MMA), which provides group insurance to member towns, covered the lion’s share while the town contributed $7,500.
At the May 6 meeting, Birch Harbor resident, pastor and Me & Ben’s Dairy Crème proprietor Bill Thomas was among local residents who opposed putting the question of police coverage to voters again.
“I am not sure why we would contract out. We already know what the public wants,” Thomas told selectmen, referring to the 2019 referendum vote keeping the police department. He cautioned the board about hiring professional law enforcement officers whose “philosophy and mindset” of keeping law and order may not fit a town numbering less than 2,000 inhabitants. “Make sure we have the right person and maintain our Police Department.”
Cathy Dunbar, the mother of former Police Chief Tyler Dunbar, also objected to selectmen’s move to ask voters again. She questioned how local residents could vote without knowing comparative costs well ahead of Town Meeting.
“You know the facts from three years ago,” she noted, referring to the Police Department’s 2018-19 budget of $207,000. At that time, Hancock County Sheriff Scott Kane had quoted an annual cost of $134,316 for one sheriff’s duty’s 40-hour work week. That figure included salary, training, benefits, fuel, insurance and cruiser maintenance.
Rice pledged to provide those comparative costs.
“We will bring what information we have to the town at Town Meeting,” he said.