GOULDSBORO — The Winter Harbor and Gouldsboro police departments have put on ice, for now, the idea of merging into a single combined force.
Gouldsboro Police Chief Tyler Dunbar and Winter Harbor Police Chief Danny Mitchell informed Gouldsboro selectmen of that development at the board’s May 3 meeting.
The two chiefs began studying the idea of combining their departments last fall and came up with a plan that would have them sharing resources, offices, officers and budgets. Mitchell would have become chief of the combined department, while Dunbar would have become a lieutenant.
Both towns have forces made up primarily of part-time officers. The merger would have resulted in a combined full-time force of three to four officers, including Mitchell and Dunbar.
The Winter Harbor Police Department office would have been the headquarters for the combined force, while space at the Gouldsboro town office would have served as a satellite station with set, regular hours.
Dunbar told Gouldsboro selectmen May 3 it made sense to “suspend” the idea of merging at this point. Mitchell said the decision to suspend the effort was one that he and Dunbar made themselves, without consulting selectmen in either town first.
Selectmen asked the police chiefs why they “got cold feet,” noting discussions on the subject seemed positive and productive, and asked if “the idea of marriage” was frightening. Selectman Roger Bowen said even though the combined force would have cost “slightly more money,” it would have offered the advantage of better coverage and, as a result, greater safety.
When the merger study was taking place last fall, Mitchell said his department had about 60 to 65 hours of coverage each week. Dunbar told Maine Public Radio in March that Gouldsboro has about 80 to 100 hours of coverage weekly. With a combined department, coverage was forecast to climb to between 140 and 160 hours each week.
Mitchell agreed that the discussions and studying that took place were “a good exercise” and said the two departments are “working together tighter than other before.” The idea was that the proposal would eventually be taken to the voters of the two towns for their consideration. Mitchell said he did not think there was enough support in Winter Harbor for the merger to move forward at this time.
“Gouldsboro is not my question,” he told selectmen.
Taking the chance on a vote this year would potentially jeopardize the work that has been done and the “political equity” that has been built up, Mitchell said. He said he was concerned that if the proposal were defeated by voters at this time, it would then be a long time before it could reasonably be brought back before them for reconsideration.
“I don’t want to blow the one chance we may have,” Mitchell said.
Selectmen thanked the two chiefs for the time and effort they spent looking into the matter of merging.