Paris to research police protection options

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PARIS — Selectmen are taking another look at the Oxford County Sheriff’s Office as an alternative to the Paris Police Department as part of an effort to keep all options on the table to save the town money.

The board voted to have Town Manager Amy Bernard research options for police protection.

The board has discussed other police options periodically for more than a year, and on Tuesday Selectman Robert Wessels called on the board to get to work and make a decision.

“We’ve had police protection for a very long time,” Wessels said. He said it was time to take a look at all options. “We’ve had a lot of question marks over the last year. Let’s take away those question marks.”

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Last year the board asked for a proposal from Sheriff Wayne Gallant on the cost to have the sheriff’s office take over Paris police coverage after. Gallant’s figures were higher than what the town pays for its own force. By Gallant’s estimation, it would cost Paris about $672,000 for the first year for setup costs and $568,000 for subsequent years. For the 2012-13 fiscal year, Paris paid about $506,000 for the Police Department.

Vice Chairman Robert Kirchherr said that the town should consider every possible option, especially with the town’s current financial crisis and the additional pressure the proposed state budget could put on municipalities.

“At the very least, it needs to be reexamined in light of all of the budget issues we’re dealing with,” Kirchherr said.

Resident Rick Little said the town could get by with fewer deputies than the sheriff’s office included in its estimate, and has been urging selectmen to go back to the sheriff asking for a cheaper deal.

Last year, the Paris and Norway police departments also discussed merging. Norway voters approved it, but a tied vote in Paris stalled the issue and in December Norway Town Manager David Holt said there’s little interest in a merger any more in his town.

Paris police are getting anxious about the town’s occasional talk about replacing the Police Department, according to one officer, and would like to know if they’ll have jobs in the future.

Sgt. Skip Mowatt of the Paris Police Department asked the board to keep Paris police in the loop if they talk to the Oxford County Sheriff’s Office about coverage again. “Would you let us at the police department know so that we can have an idea of what we’re looking at?”

Mowatt said the department will be negotiating contracts soon. “We’d like to have an idea if we’re going to be here as a Police Department or working for the Sheriff’s Office.”

He said the possibility of losing their jobs hanging over officers’ heads has hurt morale on the force, and that Paris officers needed answers. “We do need to bury this issue one way of the other,” Mowatt said.

Mowatt said he hopes the town keeps the department. “After this, let’s call it quits,” he said.

treaves@sunjournal.com

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