PARIS — The Board of Selectmen intends to negotiate a formal contract for police services with the Oxford County Sheriff's Office before going any further with the proposal.
At their meeting Monday, board members voted unanimously to schedule an executive session for their next meeting on March 11 for negotiations with Sheriff Wayne Gallant, Chief Deputy Hart Daley and Interim Paris Police Chief Michael Dailey.
If the negotiations produce a final document, it will need to be approved by voters at the annual town meeting in June.
The vote followed a lengthy question-and-answer session between board members and Gallant.
Town Manager Amy Bernard suggested the board make a quick decision regarding whether or not to negotiate a contract, in order to prevent drawing out an issue that could create morale problems among the seven officers in limbo at the Paris police department.
"That's my concern ... this could have ramifications in the department as far as morale, as far as people looking for positions somewhere else, and we really don't want that," Bernard said. "We either want to keep our department or go with the Sheriff. Projecting it out any further is just going to muddy the waters."
According to a draft three-year contract provided to Bernard by Gallant two weeks ago, police services would cost $638,480 for the first year and $495,328 for consecutive years.
Next year's proposed police budget is $591,392, Bernard told the board. Overall, the first year of service would cost $47,088 over the proposed police budget, but consecutive years would realize at least $96,064 in savings.
The agreement includes funding for four deputies, a school resource officer and a detective.
Responding to questions from Selectman Robert Wessels, Gallant said the first year's bigger price tag reflected start-up costs, like equipment for the six deputies.
A clause in the contract could allow for a 2 percent increase in cost after the first three years, but Gallant told the board he opposed any cost increases for the town, acknowledging that Paris taxpayers already helped fund the Oxford County Sheriff's Office.
During the meeting, several current Paris officers questioned the contract.
Veteran Paris Sergeant Skip Mowatt said he would prefer to see an "apples-to-apples" comparison of the two proposed budgets and urged the board to keep a long-standing department that had given "110 percent" to the town.
Officer Harry Sims mentioned that more than half of Paris' police force was not certified by the Maine Criminal Justice Academy and probably would not be hired by the Oxford County Sheriff's Office.
Gallant acknowledged the department had no money for officer certification in its budget.
Board Chairman Sam Elliot said the town would reduce its officers from seven to six and expressed concern that the town would cede local control over its budget.
Selectman Ryan Lorrain suggested that a short-term contract could be subject to changes in Oxford County government and suggested the town would not be able to afford to recreate its own department if contract terms became unfavorable in the future.