GUILFORD, Maine — Town selectmen and Piscataquis County commissioners inched closer Tuesday to a written agreement that spells out the relationship the Piscataquis County Sheriff’s Department has with Guilford for police coverage.
The commissioners and the selectmen have been haggling for months over whether a written contract is needed to cover liability issues when off-duty deputies are providing private services for Guilford. In recent weeks, an agreement has been crafted that for the most part appeases both sides. More tweaking of the language is expected before the document is signed.
“I apologize if we overreached a year ago by getting something that maybe was more than we needed at the time, to at least get the basics down on paper,” Commissioner Tom Lizotte told selectmen Tuesday.
Lizotte said the latest document would meet the county’s needs, adding that much of the wording was taken from Town Manager Tom Goulette. Lizotte said the commissioners have two requirements: They need something in writing that spells out the agreement, and that agreement needs to clarify what happens in the event there is a personal injury or a property damage claim.
Guilford has had an informal verbal arrangement with the Sheriff’s Department for police coverage for about 45 years. The town hires off-duty deputies who wear the county uniform and who patrol the town 24 hours each week. The town funds their salaries and provides a cruiser, which carries the Sheriff’s Department logo.
The lack of a written contract came to light several months ago when the Sheriff’s Department was asked to submit a proposal for police coverage to the town of Milo. A proposal was submitted to Milo for consideration that differed greatly from Guilford’s arrangement.
“There was some cloudiness or misunderstanding as to just what Guilford did have,” Goulette said Tuesday. There never was a contract; it was “kind of a 50-year standard procedure and not much more.”
In researching the relationship the county had with Guilford, the commissioners learned there was no written agreement. Since the county pays for the training of the deputies, the county uniforms, the record keeping and firearms qualifications, questions of liability were raised. Based on advice from the Maine Municipal Asso-ciation and the Maine County Commissioners’ Risk Pool, county officials pursued a written contract.
In their first attempt, the commissioners said the town could continue the practice as it exists but the county would coordinate the patrol schedule in Guilford, or the county would provide the service and bill the town.
Guilford town officials staunchly objected to either proposal, saying the relationship had worked well over the years and they objected to the county control. Goulette reminded the commissioners that when the Sheriff’s Department needed an immediate response to a complaint in a neighboring town and a county officer was out of the area, Guilford always had allowed its on-duty officers to respond at town expense.
“It has been a tremendous help to the sheriff’s office,” Piscataquis County Sheriff John Goggin said Tuesday. Guilford is one of the “few towns that appreciate what we do for them and they allow their person to be dispatched” to other towns when another officer needs assistance. That has saved the county money, he said.