Brownville officials may weigh police options post-town meeting
BROWNVILLE, Maine — With changes taking place at the top of the police department last month — after the resignation of Nicholas Clukey Sgt. Seth Barnes was appointed as the interim chief before he can officially become chief — some residents thought the timing was right to discuss the various options for law enforcement services in the town.
The public was invited to talk about the matter during a March 15 selectmen’s meeting, held five days before the annual town meeting on Monday evening. The warrant included a proposed sum of $167,620 for the public safety police patrol budget, an increase of $24,550 from last year, recommended by the selectmen and the budget committee.
Select Chair Dolly Perkins — whose husband is a corporal investigator with the Brownville Police Department — said she and Town Manager Kathy White met Piscataquis County Sheriff’s Office officials for much of the day on March 13.
“We spent hours there going over different scenarios,” Perkins said. She explained should the sheriff’s office provide the same 16-18 hours a day coverage as Brownville has now, with three full-time officers at approximately $60,000 each per year along with a take-home vehicle, then the expenses would be about $180,000 or more than the proposed $167,620.
“It is very, very dependent on how many hours you want in coverage for us,” Perkins said about Brownville’s police services options.
Perkins and White said they learned more about Guilford’s contract with the sheriff’s office. “The town does not have a police department, the town has a patrol,” Perkins said. “They do 24 hours a week, not a day,” paying between $25,000 and $30,000 annually in wages along with providing a vehicle and supplemental insurance.
She said should Brownville look at a similar arrangement then the total cost could be around $50,000. “The problem with that is you don’t have a department and you don’t have the luxury of scheduling for conflicts or when bad things happen,” Perkins said, as in 2016 the Brownville Police Department responded to 1,725 calls for service. “That’s one of the big challenges for looking at the Guilford option.”
Another possibility could be to rely on just the coverage the town currently receives from the sheriff’s department — in 2016 Brownville’s share of the Piscataquis County tax was $79,650. “They said they would show up when they could and it would be a reactionary force,” she said. Perkins said one potential problem could come from the size of Piscataquis County — which has a similar square mileage to Connecticut — and the sheriff’s office having an average of two to four officers on patrol daily
“There is a big questions of what is this going to cost us?,” she said. Perkins explained that the police department makes up approximately 7.4 percent of the proposed 2017-18 budget — which she said has increased by about 3 percent from the year before. She based on an average yearly tax bill of $850, $65 would be devoted to policing.
Over the years Brownville and Milo have looked at sharing police resources, and the neighboring communities have served as the primary back-up for each other.
“If the community decides to eliminate the police department the town of Milo has lost its quickest form of backup,” Burnes said, saying Milo Police Chief/Town Manager Damien Pickel planned to attend the annual town meeting.
“As a whole we are going to do things a little more different than in the past and that includes being out more and patrolling more, all that I ask is just give us a chance,” Burnes added.
“Legally we have two very different charters,” Perkins said. She said Milo’s town charter has a hierarchy for filling vacant positions which is far different than the Brownville document and a separation in mill rates both pose a great challenge to determining how the two police departments could merge as has been looked at in the past.
“We don’t see how at this different time how we can combine,” she said.
Budget Committee Chair Terry Knowles said currently a law enforcement task force, made up of representatives from across the county including Brownville, is currently meeting to look at all aspects of policing in the region. “Everybody’s in the same boat we are,” Knowles said, as the various agencies are all facing similar challenges such as finances and manpower.
“There’s all kind of options,” Knowles said, as the task force is scheduled to complete its work by early summer.
“It might make sense to hold the line where we are right now and see where we are in a year,” Perkins said.
“I personally don’t see the value in disbanding right now, I think local patrol and control is a good thing but it’s not up to me,” she said, as residents will vote on the budget during the ensuing Monday evening. “I think as a board we are going to support what the town wants.”
“There’s nothing to say you can’t look at areas to save,” White said. She said that not all of the approved police budget has to be expended.
Perkins said the police budget is voted on annually as part of the town meeting but changes “could certainly be investigated.”