Board to choose police coverage question for June referendum

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BETHEL — Options abound for selectmen when they meet at 7 p.m. Monday at the Town Office.

Town Manager Jim Doar has asked them to decide whether they want to ask June town meeting voters via a referendum to either retain the police department at an annual cost of $453,794 or disband it and contract for coverage with the Oxford County Sheriff’s Office for $295,000 a year.

Or, Doar said, selectmen could draft their own, altogether different option.

If they can’t make up their minds on April 12, they’ll have to convene a special board meeting, because Town Clerk Christen Mason must order ballots for the June 8 meeting by April 26.

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The referendum question was prompted by the board’s 3-2 vote on Feb. 19 not to ratify a police coverage contract with the county. That flew in the face of a special town meeting majority vote on Feb. 9 ordering selectmen to dissolve the police department and switch to county coverage.

Questions were raised at the Feb. 19 meeting over whether selectmen could be held personally liable if a judge determined that their desire to fund the switch with remaining money for the police department was a misappropriation of voter-approved funds. That prompted the 3-2 vote to wait a few months and let town meeting voters decide.

Option 1 seeks a yes or no vote to upgrade the Bethel Police Department to provide 24-hour-per-day/seven-days-a-week law enforcement coverage by academy-trained officers at an annual cost of $453,794, and to raise and appropriate that amount for first-year costs.

Doar’s cost breakdown shows $328,657 for the police operating budget, $89,851 for employee benefits, $5,286 for municipal insurance and $30,000 for capital improvements.

Option 2 seeks a yes or no vote authorizing selectmen to contract with both Oxford County and the sheriff’s office for 24/7 dedicated law enforcement coverage at an agreed-upon cost of $295,000 a year for the next three years. That would come with an option to extend the contract for two additional years at a predetermined 2 percent annual increase.

It additionally asks voters to amend a sentence in town code to read: “There may, upon vote at a town meeting, be a police department, headed by a police chief.” Current language says, “There shall be a police department headed by the police chief.”

tkarkos@sunjournal.com

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