BETHEL – The line in the sand has been drawn.

By the narrowest of margins Monday night, both selectmen and the Budget Committee recommended yes votes on an upcoming referendum question that authorizes the board to contract with Oxford County for law enforcement.

Selectmen voted 3-2 in favor while committee members voted 6-5 in favor with one abstention.

Budget Committee member Becky Kendall abstained, saying that the topic to disband the local police force in favor of contracting with the county for police coverage “is a very personal thing for people. I will not impose my will on somebody.”

Selectmen Al Barth and Reggie Brown defended their yes votes noting the town’s inability to keep trained police officers on the force.

“My question all along has not been on the inadequacies of our Police Department and professionalism,” Barth said. “To me, we’re a revolving door. We can’t keep police officers on the force.”

Brown concurred with Barth.

“Once we get by (Chief Darrin M. Tripp), who will be the loser in this unless he gets hired on by the county, we’ve got only one full-time officer with six months experience,” Brown said.

Brown also said it was difficult for the town’s officers and those who left the force to work elsewhere to live in Bethel on what they receive for police wages.

Selectmen Don Bennett and Jack Cross, who cast dissenting votes, favored the local Police Department and local control as opposed to county control.

“I’m in favor of what we got,” Bennett said. “As far as I’m concerned, they can take care of this town and the system, we can control right here in this room.”

Cross agreed.

“I think we have a pretty good Police Department right now,” he said.

The law enforcement referendum question asks if the town will authorize selectmen to enter into an agreement with Oxford County and the Oxford County Sheriff’s Department to provide law enforcement services to Bethel on terms and conditions deemed acceptable to the board.

It also asks voters to raise and appropriate $283,574 to fund the agreement and any other police services during the period of July 1, 2003, through June 30, 2004.

However, there are two versions of Question No. 3. One gives voters the option of going with a base cost of $217,598 plus a variable cost for personnel benefits ranging between $30,990 and $64,976. The other version doesn’t. Neither group chose one version over the other.

A public hearing is slated to be held between now and the June town meeting to give voters a chance to speak up on the issue and fully understand the details.

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