MILO, Maine — Piscataquis County towns and the county consolidated economic development efforts several years ago with success, so some Milo town officials say consolidation of local police departments with the Piscataquis County Sheriff’s Department could be next as finances get tougher.
“It’s getting very hard to handle three tiers of government,” Jerry Brown, Milo selectman, said Tuesday during a joint meeting of Piscataquis County commissioners and Milo Board of Selectmen to discuss a proposed contract offered by the Sheriff’s Department for police coverage in Milo.
Town officials are researching their options for a police department, including contracting with the county, consolidating with Brownville or the continued operation of its local Police Department.
Brown, who originally suggested consolidating all local police departments into the county Sheriff’s Department, said it would behoove the whole county to look at the possibility.
He said Milo’s budget is bare-bones and the declining revenues and rising costs will force the town either to raise taxes or reduce services. While this year’s budget process was difficult, next year’s will be even harder, he predicted.
“I think the perfect time to talk about it is now,” Brown said. “Everybody in the county has got to start talking.”
The commissioners and Sheriff John Goggin agreed that a study should be done to give taxpayers the data they need to make an informed decision.
Commissioner Tom Lizotte, who said other regions across the country have consolidated police departments, suggested such a move would require hard selling to those who don’t want to lose local control.
“We are kind of the captives of the way it’s always been done in Maine,” he said.
Even though most people realize there isn’t enough money to go around for the continued support of the different levels, Goggin said, “You’re talking about a very political scenario happening here.” The larger communities have had a history of having their own departments, he said. “I think it would be a hard sell right here in Milo.”
Brown said everything is changing because of the economy and world situation. “I think the realism is going to come,” he said of the need for changes and creative thinking.
Town Manager Jeff Gahagan agreed. “At some point, people are all of a sudden going to realize, my God, we’ve got to do something [to continue to survive].” Gahagan offered to serve as a base for a grass-roots effort to at least get the discussion on the table in the county.
Another Piscataquis County town — Guilford — contracts with the Sheriff’s Department for patrol coverage rather than support its own department. The Sheriff’s Department furnishes the town with two officers who each work 20 hours a week. The town pays the officers’ salaries and provides them a vehicle.