MEXICO — The Mexico and Rumford boards of selectmen on Wednesday evening argued the pros and cons of a proposed shared police budget.

Since September 2013, the towns’ officials have been looking at ways to consolidate services and save money. They hired Municipal Resources, a consulting company from New Hampshire, which said both towns could save money by merging.

During a Nov. 24, 2014, meeting in Mexico, Oxford County Sheriff Wayne Gallant presented a two-year contract proposal to serve both towns.

Gallant said it would cost the towns more than $1.3 million for the first year and $1.18 million the second year. The proposal would provide 12 deputies to cover both towns.

Following Gallant’s presentation, Rumford police Chief Stacy Carter and Mexico police Chief Roy Hodsdon presented a proposal to combine departments and work out of the Mexico police station, which is more spacious than Rumford’s station.

Carter and Hodsdon said merging departments would cost $1.38 million and provide 15 officers. Rumford has 12 and Mexico has five.

Prior to Wednesday evening’s meeting, Town Manager John Madigan created a cost-sharing formula for the proposed shared police budget that had Rumford saving $66,045 compared to its 2014-15 police budget, and Mexico saving $44,236 compared to its previous year’s budget.

Rumford Board of Selectmen Chairman Greg Buccina said Rumford selectmen met Tuesday evening to talk with their Police Department about that budget and whether there was a way to lower the cost.

“Personally, I look at the town five years down the road, and I see a lot of uncertainties in our two communities,” Buccina said. “Sure, we’re seeing a savings this year, but that savings could evaporate this year or the year after, and five years from now, we’ll be right back in the same position as before.”

“I personally think that we need to flat-line,” Buccina said. “I’ve always been an advocate of our core services, but I look at this shared police budget, and I think we can do better.”

Buccina suggested that the board reduce the number of officers in the proposed shared budget from 15 to 13 to save money.

“If we can get closer to the number that the Sheriff’s (Office) had proposed, it could be better,” Buccina said. “However, from what I learned last night through conversations with the police chief and his officers, it’s not really an agreeable thing.”

Rumford Selectman Frank DiConzo said, “If we want to attempt to flat-line, we can’t put the cart before the horse. We have to deal with the unions. We have to say, ‘What do you want us to do?’

“They want to stay on, and they don’t want to leave this area,” DiConzo said. “The union reps should be brought in, and we’ll see what we can negotiate so we can keep the level of services at the level they are now, and still see a savings. We should be having a discussion before we actually decide on which way we want to go.”

Madigan said it wouldn’t be possible to put two sets of officers on the streets with the same exact qualifications and have one making more than the other.

“If you really want this to work, we may have to eliminate two positions, bring the force down to 13 for both towns, and then the savings will be real,” Buccina said.

“We can do a trial year,” he said. “We’d have our 13-man force, and we’d have the Oxford County Sheriff’s Office as backup, and next year, when we sit down, we can see how it’s working. What I’m saying to you, John, is that if you really want this to pass, we have to think about lowering the cost.”

Madigan responded, “I never like challenging you guys, because you’re my bosses, but I have to do my job.

“If you simply lower the number of officers between the two towns to 13, it’s no different than what the Sheriff’s Office is proposing,” he said. “And let me ask you this, Greg, if we show you, and the chiefs show you, that we can provide an efficient level of service with a 15-man force, and that we can save $110,000, why isn’t that good enough for you?”

Buccina and Selectman Albert Aniel said the $110,000 savings is only for one year, and the costs are likely to rise in the following years.

Madigan later told Buccina, “Greg, you said that we’d do a one-year trial period. Did that work last year, after you guys cut a detective’s position? No, you ended up having to add a detective’s position at the last budget vote, and the people approved it. Our main job is to provide a level of service necessary to protect residents, and a 15-man police force does that.”

“Well, I can’t accept the shared police budget as it’s being proposed right now,” Aniel said.

“But Albert, you’re seeing a savings of $110,000 between the two towns,” Madigan replied. 

“It’s not enough,” Aniel said. “We save $110,000 this year, and then the following year, we see our budget go higher.”

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