DIXFIELD — A public hearing on a Nov. 7 referendum on whether to keep the Police Department is scheduled for 6 p.m. Wednesday at Dirigo High School.
Following a lengthy debate on Aug. 21, selectmen voted 3-2 to ask voters whether they would like to discontinue the department as of Jan. 1, 2018.
Selectmen Aaron Jamison, Norm Mitchell and Hart Daley voted in favor, while Norine Clarke and Gene Skibitsky were opposed.
Jamison began debate by referring to a special town meeting June 29 for a second vote on a Police Department budget. He made a motion for zero dollars and the motion was seconded. After 75 minutes of debate, Jamison’s motion failed 32-36.
Residents passed a budget by a vote of 45-23.
Police Chief Jeff Howe, who has been with the department since 1999, said, “If you wish to go forward and have something like that done … then by all means, do so. But this needs to be well-explained to everybody so they understand exactly what they’re getting.”
He said he doesn’t believe getting rid of the department is going to be good for the community. The 24-hour patrol his department provides is “critical,” he said.
Mitchell said when considering the department, there are also future costs that people need to keep in mind, such as a new location for a police station.
Town Manager Carlo Puiia concurred.
“You cannot forget that your department is in a deficient space and needs to be changed within a period of time that’s reasonable,” he said. ” … To talk about a police station is a relative subject. That doesn’t mean you have to get rid of your department … We don’t have to build a new police station; it could be a place you lease. But you can’t continue to go in the same direction you’re going,” he said.
He said he will repeat at the public hearing what he’s been saying: “Dixfield has to be more responsible with funding for the Police Department. And when that number grows, do people still want that number?”
At the annual town meeting in June, residents rejected establishing a police building reserve fund, which included a request to appropriate $25,000 for it.
Clarke said planning needs to go into making a decision on the department.
“If we’re going to keep the Police Department, this is what it’s going to require. If we’re not going to have a Police Department, this is what you’ll be left with,” she said.
She said she doesn’t believe a decision should be made without researching options for a department.
“We’ve talked in the past about several places in town that have an option of being a place to put one (police station), but we’ve never followed through. We’ve never done any research, pricing, traffic studies. We know nothing about what our options are,” she said.