BETHEL — At a special town meeting next month, residents will decide if they want to keep the local police department or disband it and switch to coverage through the Oxford County Sheriff’s Office.

The meeting will be held at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 9, in the auditorium at Crescent Park Elementary School.

Bethel’s longtime inability to keep academy-trained, full-time officers on the force — and Town Manager Jim Doar’s suspension of police Chief Alan Carr in September — led to the current situation.

On Sept. 25, Doar suspended Carr without publicly stating why. Then, Carr abruptly resigned on Oct. 20 for personal reasons, leaving Doar and Sgt. S. R. White to run the department.

White is now the only full-time officer left from a four-person squad.

In November, Oxford County Sheriff Wayne Gallant proposed that the county could provide 24-hour/seven-day-a-week patrol coverage for $295,000 a year for the first three years. The figure would likely rise about 3 percent a year.

By going with the county, Bethel would save $18,000, based on its current $313,000 police budget.

According to a digital recording of Monday night’s hearing, Doar said that in addition to White, Bethel currently has six reserve officers. But only one has been trained in law enforcement at the Maine Criminal Justice Academy in Vassalboro.

Another reserve officer took a full-time job elsewhere.

“As a town office, we’re always looking for ways to provide better value to the taxpayer, whether that’s lower taxes or in terms of increased productivity,” Doar said at the hearing.

“Whether or not this passes, it’s important that it’s debated.”

In the past, despite staffing struggles, the town has always voted to keep its Police Department intact.

To highlight those problems, Doar said that since 2001, the average staffing time for a full-time Bethel police officer — excluding the chief — is 1½ years.

At the hearing, Gallant said his proposal would provide three academy-trained deputies to Bethel.

“These deputies assigned to Bethel will be here,” he said. “You won’t see a rotating shift of different people.”

The town would also get full access to Gallant, three full-time detectives, and the chief deputy and administration.

“Bethel is used to a four-man department,” Gallant said. “This change will be to a three-man, and I will have my shift sergeant in Peru be here two hours to make sure the area is covered until the day shift comes on.”

Mason Township resident Bill Ulmann sought clarification about response times.

Referring to talks he’s had with local business owners, Ulmann said, “They want to see that blue light as fast as possible, because that flashing blue light tends to calm things down, and that’s what’s critical to them.”

“Would we be well covered on weekend nights where you’re getting calls from all over the county on those nights?” he asked.

Gallant said that if he needs additional deputies in Bethel, he would bring them in.

He said he would change current shift hours. One or more detectives would also occasionally work out of Bethel.

Response times also concerned resident Jackie Schuesler. Whenever she needed an officer, she said Bethel police were there within one or two minutes.

Schuesler also shared a past anecdote about having to wait a few hours for help from the county to deal with a suicidal person for whom she was caring.

Gallant reiterated that the three deputies would work in Bethel.

“This seems like the best system going,” resident and businessman Ron Savage said of Gallant’s proposal. “We’ve got some of the shortest tenured guys going in the state. We’re sort of a training area and then they leave.”

“We’re getting three active people and the administrative staff?” Savage asked.

“Right,” Gallant said, “and on any given shift, I have four other deputies out there and they’re available, too.”

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