Selectmen in Orrington voted to have three Penobscot County sheriff’s deputies patrol the town of 3,700 instead of local officers employed by the town, according to Selectman Keith Bowden.
The Monday night vote to pursue a contract with the Penobscot County Sheriff’s Office came about a month after the town’s police chief quit and as a local committee works on plans for a new public safety building that will be designed to have less space for police than originally planned.
Orrington is one of two towns that participate in a community policing program with the Penobscot County Sheriff’s Office. Under the arrangement, Orrington employs its own officers and purchases cruisers for them to patrol the town. But the officers are trained by the sheriff’s office, and they wear the same uniforms and gun belts as sheriff’s deputies. The cruisers also bear the Penobscot County Sheriff’s Office logo.
It’s been many years since Orrington officials last signed a contract with his department for the community policing arrangement, Sheriff Troy Morton said. Because of Sgt. Jon Carson’s recent resignation and the downsizing of the town’s proposed public safety building, it seemed like a good time to discontinue the community policing program, according to Morton.
Hermon is the only other community in Penobscot County that has a similar program. Other communities without local police departments contract with county commissioners for law enforcement coverage from the sheriff’s department, he said.
That’s the arrangement Orrington selectmen voted to pursue Monday night. The details are expected to be worked out with input from residents, Bowden said.
The choice to opt for sheriff’s office coverage in town came as selectmen also set a date for Orrington residents to vote on a redesigned proposal for a public safety building that town officials have pursued to put police and fire operations under one roof.
A referendum vote will take place Tuesday, June 18 — more than two weeks after the annual town meeting June 3. Voters will cast secret ballots during daylong polling at the Center Drive School. Hours for voting have not yet been set.
Two informational meetings about the still incomplete proposal will be held at 6 p.m. Wednesday, June 5, and at 5 p.m. Sunday, June 9, at the school. The town will also send out a mailing to residents with questions and answers comparing the new plan with the $3.5 million design voters rejected last fall.
The cost of the redesigned building won’t be known until the week of May 20, according to Rep. Dick Campbell, who is chairman of the advisory committee that was charged with presenting a less expensive option to the community after voters’ December rejection of the $3.5 million design.
Campbell laid out preliminary plans Monday that would be about 3,500 square feet smaller than the one originally proposed. The police department side of the 9,500-square-foot building shrank in the design after the sheriff’s office ended Orrington’s community policing arrangement.
Three of four bays originally intended to be used by police have been eliminated in the design. The remaining bay would house the town’s 1954 fire truck and other memorabilia, according to Campbell.
The committee is expected to propose a building estimated to cost about $2.5 million. The town could add to the building, slated for a lot at Tupper and Center drives, if it ever decided to form a local police department
A desire to have more residents weigh in on the revised building plan prompted selectmen to choose a referendum vote, rather than convene a special town meeting.
Selectmen on Monday endorsed the advisory committee’s preliminary design and asked the panel to make recommendations on the use of the current fire station and police office once the new building is complete.
The cost of a new public safety building would not affect the tax rate. A municipal building reserve account, the town’s tax increment financing account and an undesignated fund balance would cover the cost, town officials have said.