GOULDSBORO — A referendum question on dissolving the Gouldsboro Police Department will be on the town ballot in June.
A petition, circulated by resident Becky Irwin and signed by 97 registered voters, was filed Monday at the Gouldsboro town office, said Town Manager Sherri Cox. Another 12 people signed but their signatures were disqualified because they aren’t registered voters in the town. Only 93 signatures are required.
The petition asks that the following question be placed on the ballot in the form of a referendum: “Shall the town vote to disband the Gouldsboro Police Department and contract with the Hancock County Sheriff’s Office for public safety services?”
At least 10 days before the June 11 election, the town will schedule a public hearing. The date has not yet been set.
“I think citizens need to be able to compare apples to apples,” Cox said.
Irwin was not immediately available for comment.
Police Chief Tyler Dunbar said it would be “unfortunate” for the town to lose its own police department. “There would definitely be a loss of services,” he said.
Currently, the town has two full-time officers and one part-time officer who provide about 100 hours of coverage each week. They patrol and respond to calls in an area that includes 45 square miles of land and 50 square miles of water, he said.
The total cost for police services is approximately $207,000 for the current fiscal year with about $214,000 in the proposed budget for the coming year, Cox said. The cost of contracting with the sheriff’s office for the same kind of dedicated coverage is estimated to be close to $300,000, in part because the sheriff’s deputies are unionized and receive higher wages, she said.
Ironically, the Police Department has been advocating for years to add an officer to the existing force, Dunbar said. The addition of another full-time officer would cost $40,000 to $50,000 annually. Adding a full-time officer while eliminating the part-time position would cost less.
Although it hasn’t been considered officially for at least 10 years, Dunbar believes the goal is worthwhile.
“We’ve seen a huge increase in traffic in town,” Dunbar said. With that have come calls about traffic issues and related complaints such as noise.
In 2010, the department received a total of 655 calls, with the number peaking at 930 calls in 2018.
When no one from Gouldsboro police is on duty, officers from Maine State Police and the county sheriff’s office share coverage.
“People get upset or frustrated with the police department,” Dunbar said. “We can’t cover 24/7 with three employees.”
Dunbar said the department also takes criticism for spending too much time patrolling Route 1. However, because it’s the busiest road in town and has a 55-mph speed limit, it is also the most dangerous road in town, he said. More than 50 percent of all traffic calls involve Route 1.
“We do try to pay attention to all the other roads,” he said.
Gouldsboro police spend a lot of time checking on the welfare of residents who may have limited mobility and no family nearby, Dunbar said. In one instance over the winter, the water pipes froze at the home of an elderly resident who was not able to get them repaired right away. Dunbar described the department’s response as proactive.
“The Police Department brought cases of water out to her for like two months,” he said.