DOVER-FOXCROFT, Maine — The Piscataquis County commissioners and Guilford municipal officials are at odds over the status of Guilford’s police department.
For more than 40 years, the town has funded a part-time police department, hiring off-duty Piscataquis County sheriff’s deputies who wear county uniforms and who patrol in a town-owned cruiser that bears the county’s logo. That partnership has operated over the years without anything in writing.
Not having a clear agreement where responsibility lies for liability or workers’ compensation exposes the county to some “pretty serious possibilities,” County Commissioner Tom Lizotte said Tuesday.
When they realized there was no contract or formal agreement, the commissioners drafted a proposed contract that reflected as much as possible of the current arrangement the county has with Guilford, and added language needed to satisfy the county’s insurance carriers, according to Piscataquis County Manager Marilyn Tourtelotte.
The Maine Municipal Association, which carries the county’s workers’ compensation coverage, and the Maine County Commissioners’ Risk Pool, which provides the county’s liability coverage, both have expressed concerns over the arrangement, she noted.
Despite those concerns, Guilford town officials say the arrangement has worked well over the years without any cost to the county. In fact, Piscataquis County Sheriff John Goggin told the commissioners Tuesday that the county benefits because the town allows deputies to respond to incidents in the region while on Guilford’s payroll.
Guilford Town Manager Tom Goulette and his board of selectmen have advised the commissioners that the current arrangement should be left alone.
“We are not represented by your insurance carrier, so we will elect not to have them dictate our municipal policy,” Goulette wrote in an Aug. 17 letter to the commissioners. He called the sample contract offered by the county “insulting.”
The local police department is no different than the town’s fire department, according to Goulette. When the town’s firetruck goes to an out-of-town mutual aid call, Guilford pays the firefighters and the town’s vehicle insurance, and workers’ compensation covers them to and from their way to a scene. If a claim or lawsuit re-sulted for negligence at the scene, it would be the responsibility of the town where the fire was located, he noted.
Goulette said Guilford can proceed in one of three ways: continue the current service without the county’s interference; paint the cruiser, purchase new uniforms for patrol officers, and keep the cruiser within town lines; or discontinue the police patrol for a local savings of $25,000 and rely solely on the county for response.
“After considering how well Guilford has managed its budget, the crime rates in town, the benefits and cost savings to all the residents of the county; that would indeed be a shame,” Goulette wrote.
Goggin expressed his concern Tuesday about the possibility that Guilford might discontinue its service. He said that would place more burdens on his department.
Lizotte said he was a bit disappointed that Guilford town officials did not want to meet with the county manager to discuss the issue further. Maintaining the status quo is not a viable option, he said.
“We’ve been lucky that nothing bad has happened that would cause us to have to use that insurance, but the possibility always exists,” Lizotte said.