DIXFIELD — Many of the 50 residents at a recent public hearing voiced support for keeping the Police Department.
However, the question raised over and over by selectmen and the town manager: Would taxpayers be willing to adequately fund the department?
The hearing Wednesday was a precursor to a Nov. 7 referendum asking voters whether to permanently disband the department effective Dec. 31.
Selectman Aaron Jamison, who led the effort to get the question on the ballot, said, “I’m fine without a police department. But if this town wants one, this town needs to adequately give them the money they need and not continually give them enough to just get by. That’s all we’re doing is just getting by on what we’ve got.”
Several people said they didn’t understand why they were being asked after passing a police budget in June.
Selectman Hart Daley said, “If it passes, that will be the last time.”
Scott Dennett, who serves on the Finance Committee, asked why the word “permanently” was in the ballot question and if it passed would there never be a police department again.
Town Manager Carlo Puiia said he used “permanently” to mean not fund the department and to get rid of all the equipment.
Puiia said if the question passes, it will not result in contracting with the Oxford County Sheriff’s Office for coverage.
Because Dixfield pays county taxes, the community would be covered by the Sheriff’s Office, as well as state police, like other communities without a police department.
The Police Department budget is $383,480.
Puiia estimated an adequate budget would be around $415,000.
He said a study in 2014 concluded the facility the Police Department shares with public works is not suitable for some needs.
To that end, residents at the June town meeting voted 186-248 not to appropriate $25,000 for a police station capital improvement reserve fund. Included in that fund would have been a search for a better facility.
“It’s not responsible for the community to be aware of (facility issues), have it studied and then do nothing. It’s on the people to address it,” Puiia said.
“You don’t have to get rid of your department. But if you continue to ignore this, are we being responsible? I think not,” he said.
Board Chairman Norine Clarke said, “If we can study the school building and study other buildings in town, and find out what is available, what they will cost, and what it will take to rehab them for police department use; I think if we have a plan, they will get behind it.”
Police Chief Jeff Howe said, “Our goal is to get our department whole again; providing pretty good service with what we have now. I realize it’s a huge budget issue to find another facility or find a better way to use our current facility. We need to think outside the box.”
Puiia said the absentee ballots will be available 45 days before the referendum.
There will be a special town meeting at 6 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 19, in the community room at Dirigo High School where the question will be presented for debate. The warrant also includes a question to repeal a 2012 wind energy facility ordinance and enacting a new one. The meeting will recess until voting Nov. 7 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the polls at the American Legion Post 100.