DIXFIELD — The Board of Selectmen agreed to allow Town Manager Carlo Puiia and Chairman Scott Belskis to continue attending the joint selectmen meetings organized by the towns of Rumford and Mexico to discuss the consolidation of their police departments.
The towns of Rumford and Mexico have been meeting for more than a year about consolidating services, including their police departments, and have invited Dixfield to attend the meetings.
However, during Dixfield’s Dec. 8 board meeting, selectmen voted 3-1 to organize a committee to search for a new chief of police because current Chief Richard Pickett is leaving in late January.
“The town of Dixfield is obligated to have a five-man Police Department until January 2016, due to a grant we received,” Puiia said. “The committee is in the process of looking for a new police chief in the short term. However, I think it behooves the town to continue researching the possibility of merging with other police departments in the area, even if it’s somewhere down the line.”
During Monday evening’s meeting, Puiia passed out a worksheet that showed the populations and valuations of Rumford, Mexico and Dixfield.
“The reason I’m doing this is because at the last joint meeting between Rumford and Mexico, it was discussed how the cost of merging police departments would be split among two or three towns,” Puiia said.
Puiia pointed out that in terms of population, Dixfield is very close with Mexico, and in terms of valuation, Dixfield was the only town of the three to have an increased valuation as compared to the previous year.
“I think that we have to be very cognizant of these things if we’re discussing any kind of formula for splitting costs,” Puiia said.
Pickett pointed out to the board that “Rumford and Mexico have already said that the main reason they’re moving forward with this is to reduce their costs.”
“I don’t think they’re going to be real receptive to us not moving up toward them instead of them moving down toward us,” Pickett said.
Belskis said that the only way Dixfield could be involved with Rumford and Mexico in a merger was if “we put a pool together and paid for it by usage.”
Puiia said that when Rumford and Mexico shared the cost of a ladder truck in the past, they looked at each town’s population, valuation and historical use.
“Short of having a formula done by usage, it just doesn’t seem feasible to get involved,” Belskis said. “I’ll continue to look at it, if it’s OK with the rest of the board.”
Selectman Mac Gill agreed, adding, “It doesn’t hurt to listen to what they have to say.”
Selectman Dana Whittemore said, “I think the whole idea of us getting involved with them was to gather information and see what our options are.”
“They said their idea was to add us into their equation while they look into merging and see if it could possibly save us money,” Belskis replied. “It won’t cost us any money to do so.”
In other business, the selectmen answered questions from residents about why the town uses Ted Berry Co. Inc. of Livermore to operate the town’s sewage pump stations.
The issue arose after Puiia said that the Ted Berry Co. had been operating the town’s sewer systems for the past six years.
Resident Dan McKay asked how long the town’s sewer system had been in operation.
Paul Pomerleau, an engineer with Ted Berry, said that some of the pump stations were more than 30 years old.
“What did we do in the years before we hired Ted Berry to operate the sewer systems?” McKay asked Puiia.
“We had the town employees at the Public Works Department do the work,” Puiia replied. “At a certain point, the town decided to go with Ted Berry to do the work.”
McKay replied, “I think that the town brought in Ted Berry six years ago to have the sewers jet-cleaned, because he was the one to do it, and he became attached to it.
“We never said, ‘Good, thanks for cleaning, and see you later,’” McKay continued. “I question that and wonder why the Public Works Department can’t go back to taking care of the Sewer Department. We don’t have a treatment system or anything. It’s just pumps and pipes.”
Puiia said that he did not know the basis for the town deciding to stay with Ted Berry in the long term.
“It’s like anything else in government,” McKay said. “Once it’s in there, you can’t get it out.”
Resident Norine Clarke, who was on the Board of Selectmen when the town hired the Ted Berry Co. to operate the sewer system, said that at the time they hired the company to operate the sewer systems, things had “not been going well for years.”
“It was partly because of the lack of employees who had a basis of knowledge needed for the work that needed to be done,” Clarke said. “They didn’t have the safety practices needed for when you climb down into the sewer to fix a pump. They didn’t have the equipment and didn’t have the supervisory skills to see that the correct thing was done when it needed to be done.
“As a result, things were left undone and not in the best of conditions,” Clarke continued. “The point is that the sewers were being done well by Ted Berry, and it didn’t require us to purchase extra equipment. It saves us money in the long run when the work is being done well. To go backwards and use the Public Works Department, you’d have to make sure there’s a good deal of training done, and the right equipment needed for them to do it. I still think using Ted Berry is a bargain.”