DOVER-FOXCROFT, Maine — A written agreement that outlines Guilford’s long-standing verbal arrangement with the Piscataquis County Sheriff’s Department for weekend police protection was inked Tuesday by Piscataquis County commissioners.
That 2-1 vote, however, came after concerns were expressed that the county was subsidizing Guilford’s coverage and that the town was benefiting from an arrangement unavailable to other towns.
For more than 40 years, Guilford has funded a part-time police department, hiring off-duty county 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.
When commissioners learned that there was no written contract, they drafted a proposed agreement 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.
Initially, Guilford town officials were reluctant to enter into any written document because the arrangement had worked well over the years without any cost to the county. They said the arrangement was between the sheriff and the town, not the county and the town.
In fact, Piscataquis County Sheriff John Goggin told commissioners last year that the county benefited from the arrangement because the town allowed deputies to respond to incident reports in the region while on Guilford’s payroll.
After months of discussions and a joint meeting, a memorandum of agreement was drafted that will need the signatures of Guilford municipal officials.
“It’s not ideal, but it’s an improvement to have something in writing,” Commissioner Tom Lizotte said Tuesday.
Commissioner Fred Trask, however, was unhappy with the document and opposed it. “I just think it is wrong,” he said Tuesday. “Just because it’s been done for 45 years doesn’t make it right. If you can’t offer this same contract-agreement to another town, then I don’t think you should be entering into it.”
Trask said the towns were not treated equally by the Sheriff’s Department, and he harkened back to the department’s proposal to Milo, which would have required the town to turn its cruisers over to the county.
Why doesn’t Guilford have its own uniforms, do its own training, have its own weapons, offer benefits to its officers and have its own logo like other police departments, Trask asked. “I don’t know any other town in the state of Maine where you would have an arrangement [like that],” he said.
Trask also noted that all of the deputies live in the Guilford area and that one of the deputies Guilford employed in 2008-09 hadn’t worked for the county.
Milo Selectman Jerry Brown echoed Trask’s concerns in a recent letter to the commissioners. Brown said the county is heavily subsidizing Guilford’s police protection, and he too noted the inconsistencies between the department’s arrangement with Guilford and the earlier proposed contract with Milo.
“The fact that other towns do not receive the magnitude of resources that Guilford does is disturbing and does not pass the straight-faced test,” Brown wrote, noting that more than 50 percent of the department’s calls were to the Guilford area.
Lizotte said Guilford’s agreement was very different from the Milo proposal. Guilford has a 24-hours-a-day police schedule, unlike the 18-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week takeover proposal for Milo, he said. “I think the circumstances between what Guilford has had and what Milo was seeking are very different,” he said.
On the other hand, Lizotte said he understood Trask’s and Brown’s concerns. He said Dover-Foxcroft residents have approached him to ask why their local tax dollars fund a local police department and the Sheriff’s Department, which primarily benefits the Guilford area.
Commissioner Eric Ward said he also has heard concerns about the service provided to Guilford from Greenville-area residents. “They’re getting a good deal,” he said of Guilford, but noted that the agreement is an improvement.