Police coverage in Rumford and Mexico has been discussed for more than a year. The discussions to merge the departments fell apart due to unforeseen issues, and contracting out with the Oxford County Sheriff’s Department arose as an option.

If both towns enter into an inter-local agreement and contract with the sheriff’s department, local departments in Rumford and Mexico will disband. If this is done, all police assets will be turned over to the sheriff’s department. Should we ever decide to go back to a local department, the start-up costs would be astronomical.

Even though the initial contract with the sheriff’s department will call for assets to be returned if the contract is dissolved, there is no guarantee of this after the initial contract ends. There is also nothing to realistically project what the contract increase may look like when it comes time to renew. And, there is nothing that guarantees what will happen whenever there is a change in administration at the sheriff’s department.

In an attempt to compare apples-to-apples, we must look at current and proposed coverage.

There are currently 17 officers between Rumford and Mexico. The sheriff’s department proposal would cut the number to 12 officers dedicated to the area; a cut in service of approximately 30 percent.

In Rumford, the 12 officers are broken down as nine patrol officers, two detectives, and the chief. In Mexico there are four patrol officers and the chief; the chief and patrol lieutenant share detective responsibilities. The sheriff’s proposal would have 10 patrol deputies, one patrol supervisor, and one detective.

If you look at the savings by making these cuts, they do not seem equitable to the taxpayer.

When the cost to the taxpayer per officer is broken down, a current Rumford officer costs $91,991. The cost for a deputy in the first year would be $110,083, and the second year cost would be $98,333. So, the only savings seen is by cutting personnel.

It is also important to consider Rumford and Mexico already contribute over $500,000 to the county tax base, which will still be paid even with the contracted service.

Something that has been talked about by supporters of the sheriff’s contract is the fact additional staff can be called in for emergencies. The problem with that point is two-fold.

There is nothing in a deputy’s contract that requires him or her to take a call-out. There are also current mutual aid agreements where the deputies assist municipal agencies when needed, like during the ice storm this past winter when multiple deputies assisted in shutting roads and covering crashes in Rumford during a state of emergency.

Think back to the 2013 “Save Rumford” “Vote No” movement that resulted in cuts in services. The police department was cut from 13 officers to 10. Less than a year after those cuts were made, citizens were not happy with the cut in service and voted to bring the department back to its current 12 officer size.

Mexico has maintained five officers for years.

The focus by some has been the significant cost increases in the department over the years. If we look at the 2004-05 Rumford police operating budget it was $816,995; the 2015-16 budget is less than $779,000.

Rumford Police Association members have averaged a 1.9 percent wage increase over the past 10 years; the Social Security COLA increase has held a 2.4 percent average. And, these employees have seen an increase in benefit costs while agreeing to change benefit plans to help lower town costs.

It is important to know what the cost difference will mean to people.

A Rumford taxpayer who owns a $100,000 home will see zero savings during the first year with the sheriff’s department because, by contract, employees have to be paid for their due vacations, sick time, personal time, etc. By the second year that same taxpayer will start seeing a savings. The savings during the second year will be approximately $6 a month on a $100,000 home. If costs maintain their current 10-year trend, that same taxpayer will be saving around $9 a month with the sheriff’s department compared to keeping the local police department.

It’s important to note the officers in Rumford and Mexico are local people. They are taxpayers with families. Most work as municipal officers because they want to be intertwined in the community and will likely leave the area for new municipal jobs.

There are big differences in municipal work and rural deputy work.

Many have said the current officers will stay here and work for the sheriff’s department. I do not see that happening with many of the employees.

Those employees who may choose to stay will be placed in the deputy pool. What will happen over time, just as it happens now, is deputies will bid on employment slots and there is nothing guaranteeing the deputies covering this area have to live within a certain distance, or anywhere near town for that matter.

Rumford has a distance requirement for its employees.

What this whole decision boils down to is change in coverage means change in service.

Brad Gallant is president of the Rumford Police Association.

The issue of contracting police coverage with the Oxford County Sheriff’s Department will be discussed at the annual town business meeting and public hearing at 7 p.m. on Monday, June 1, at Mountain Valley High School.

If a majority hand-vote passes at that meeting, the issue will be placed on the June 9 ballot.

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