PARIS — Even though no law enforcement officials were in attendance at the Monday, May 2 police coverage forum at the Paris Fire Station, selectmen fielded questions from the audience and promised to get answers.

In a letter to interim Town Manager Sawin Millett, Sheriff Wayne Gallant explained his absence.

“The chief deputy and I will not be attending these meetings because it’s a decision that needs to be made by the citizens and taxpayers of the town of Paris,” Gallant wrote.

Outgoing Interim Police Chief Jeff Lange told selectmen at their meeting last week he would not present his reduced budget again and was unsure if he would attend. He was not at the forum Monday. Lange’s last day is May 20, after which time, he will take a position as Wiscasset’s police chief.

Since July 2015, selectmen and town administrators have sought to cut $500,000 from municipal spending in response to taxpayers asking for relief. There was also a petition presented by business owner and resident Scott Buffington to cap the town’s tax rate to the state average, Selectman Robert Wessels told the crowd of roughly 40 people. Selectmen decided to not move forward with his petition after the town’s attorney said it was invalid.

“It was made abundantly clear to us there were a number of citizens that were discontent with the current tax rate,” Wessels said.

From ongoing budget discussions came the idea of contracting with the Oxford County Sheriff’s Office and getting rid of the Police Department. Selectman Vic Hodgkins conducted most of the research about this possibility.

“You will find that the Sheriff’s [Office] option is cheaper,” Wessels told the audience. “It will bring savings to the town but the big, critical thing … is it is not 24-hour patrol.”

The $500,000 cut by selectmen included $108,000 from the Police Department’s proposed budget. 

Budget Committee member Rick Little said he took issue with the $500,000 number and said only $400,000 has been cut.

“We need to cut some spending,” he said. “I think we need to control not just the PD, the fire – it all needs to come together.”

When asked the total cost of closing the Police Department, Hodgkins said they don’t have that answer yet because there are many variables, including start dates for the Sheriff’s Office coverage and severance packages.

“Do the mutual aid agreements remain in effect if we transition to the county?” Buffington asked about the among Paris, Norway and Oxford police departments.

“I would say we need more information to make a more informed decision on that,” Hodgkins said.

Resident Terry Holden said she got the feeling it was a done deal and the town would contract with the Sheriff’s Office.

“I want a straight answer from the board,” she said. “If the people vote to keep the Police Department, will this put this to bed? Will that be the end of it?”

“I can answer, ‘Is this a done deal?’ No, not until we all vote,” Wessels said. “If the people vote to keep the Paris Police Department, we will keep the Paris Police Department.”

State Rep. Lloyd “Skip” Herrick, who was Paris police chief for 10 years and county sheriff for 15, said, “As a taxpayer of this town, I am not willing to pay for public safety unless we have 24/7 coverage I really believe the size of this town and the … criminal activity it generates … that we warrant 24/7 coverage.” 

“The sheriff today – Wayne Gallant – great sheriff, a lot of integrity,” Herrick added. “He will give you exemplary service just like the Paris Police Department has for many, many years.”

Selectman Janet Jamison worried about increased expenditures in town, including the future of the Fire Department and possibly funding a full-time model, along with the catch basin removal project the town has to pay for that’s in the beginning stages.

“How deep are our pockets here in Paris?” Jamison asked. “How much longer can we afford the luxury of the Police Department? That is my concern. We’ve got to make sure we’ve got fire coverage.

“My thought process is we have a professional agency in our backyard,” she said. “It’s not like they have to come from afar. They have a depth of employees we can’t turn our backs on.”

Attorney Sarah Glynn has spearheaded the AARP Age Friendly Community survey and what she found is taxes are the major reason people can’t age in their home in Paris.

“Our residents can’t afford to stay, especially our elderly,” Glynn said. “If people have to leave the town then they’re gone – the houses get foreclosed and it becomes more a burden on the people who stay. In a perfect world, I’d love to keep the Police Department. … But we don’t have that now.”

Resident Kathy Richardson countered Glynn’s statement, saying she was a widow on a fixed income.

“Who wants high taxes? My goodness, I certainly don’t,” Richardson said. “It’s getting a little stale and when we are widows and we live alone and we are on fixed income, but that is not the only expense poor widows have. We have other things. It’s not the Police Department’s fault we have to fix our roofs, we have car payments.”

The next forum on police coverage will be from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 17, at the Paris Fire Station, 137 Western Ave.

Voters will decide on police coverage at the polls June 14 election. Depending on the vote outcome, policing services in town will be addressed at the annual town meeting June 18.

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Paris Police Department

• Fiscal 2017 budget $498,350

• $108,000 cut from current budget

• 24/7 patrol coverage

• Reduction of one position

• Four patrol officers

• One detective/sergeant

• One school resource officer/sergeant

• One chief

• One administrative assistant

• Five part-time patrol officers

 

Oxford County Sheriff’s Office

• First-year contract $363,064

• Second year contract $324,500

• 24/7 coverage, not 24/7 patrol coverage

• On-call coverage from 1:30-6 a.m.

• Three deputies dedicated to Paris

• Detective services split in Paris

• Cruisers included in contract


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