DIXFIELD – Neighbors Dixfield and Mexico came a bit closer to sharing police services Tuesday night.

A plan presented by Dixfield Town Manager Eugene Skibitsky shows a potential savings of nearly $40,000 a year if the two forces combine into one department. Additional savings may be found once a specific administrative structure is devised.

Both boards agreed to go forward with the plan, and set a meeting date for Feb. 24 in Mexico when they will be able to more precisely compare line-by-line costs of the two departments.

“Sooner or later the towns are going to have to merge services; the tax bases are going down,” Mexico board Chairwoman Barbara Laramee said.

Mexico Town Manager John Madigan said much of the proposed savings would come from eliminating built-in overtime by changing work schedules from 12-hour shifts to 8- or 10-hour shifts.

Other savings would come from reducing the number of police vehicles from the combined total of six to five or fewer, the need for fewer supplies, and other items.

Now, Dixfield’s 2009 police budget is $290,769 for its four-officer department. Mexico’s is $362,406 for its five-officer department.

With a merger, the total operating budget could be reduced to about $615,000.

Recommended goals in the plan include: Continuing 24-hour coverage, preserving services, siting the primary station in Mexico because of its larger size, and making the Dixfield department a substation.

Other suggestions included having one chief, one detective or deputy chief, two sergeants, and five officers.

That’s only a tentative suggestion, Skibitsky said.

Organizational structure was the major point of discussion.

“If we have a detective, why do we need two sergeants?” Dixfield Selectman James Desjardins said.

Other issues to resolve include unionization. The Mexico department is in the first year of its three-year union contract. Dixfield police are not unionized.

Pay scales are similar, Madigan said.

He said a merged department, under an interlocal agreement, would provide greater flexibility if an officer is sick.

Dixfield has 2,531 residents; Mexico, 2,913. Costs would be shared based on population, with 44.5 percent from Dixfield and 55.5 percent from Mexico.

While several didn’t necessarily agree with the suggested structure of a merged department, all selectman want to move forward with the plan.

The two town managers have also met with the police departments’ two chiefs, Jim Theriault of Mexico and Richard Pickett of Dixfield, during development of the plan.

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