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Billy Bob Faulkingham and Roger Bowen were elected the same year to the Winter Harbor and Gouldsboro Select Boards and both served two terms. Faulkingham now represents District 136 in the Maine House of Representatives.
“Local Control” (or “home rule”) is a term used widely to refer to each Maine town’s preference for self-government on issues of immediate importance to town residents. The town meeting form of government in New England gives residents the power to legislate, albeit circumscribed by the recommendations made by town select boards which serve in executive capacity.
The system works, but not always well. The absence of term limits on members of select boards too often results in the same old faces spouting the same old bromides. As former members of our respective town select boards, we both can cite instances when invocations of some long-forgotten tradition, whether accurately rendered or not, urged deference to past practice. “We tried that many years ago and it didn’t work.” Perhaps, but this is a new era of rising property taxes and increasing traffic on Schoodic Peninsula roads, especially in the summer.
Several years ago, both of us supported a notion that departed from tradition: each town having its own police department. And we worked with our colleagues, and the two towns’ police chiefs at the time, to propose a merger of the Gouldsboro and Winter Harbor departments into one called Schoodic PD.
Why? Both towns have had difficulty in attracting trained and competent police officers because many would-be recruits did not want to join a force that was so small, where pay was low, where equipment was often outmoded, and where the chance of advancement appeared unlikely. Both town police chiefs favored the merger and together developed a proposal that showed a merger would produce greater efficiencies at roughly the same cost. Added benefits of the merger are better chances to recruit academy-trained officers, greater coordination, faster response time, economy of scale and conditions for greater camaraderie.
Hindsight is always 20/20, but perhaps our biggest mistake was putting the police chiefs out in front of the proposal. The idea seemed to fall apart when public perception became that this was somehow an idea led by the police and not the selectmen.
Earlier steps by the two towns — consolidation of the elementary school and the two fire departments sharing the same chief — seemed encouraging precedents to merging the two departments. We both were impressed that the two chiefs set ego aside and that the Gouldsboro chief was willing to serve as the second-ranking officer to the Winter Harbor chief. But good ideas can die on the vine.
Since then, as anyone who reads local newspapers knows, the Gouldsboro Police Department has been decimated by terminations, resignations, complaints and scandals. Winter Harbor’s department is stable by comparison, although it has been short of full-time academy-trained officers. Two years ago, Gouldsboro voters were asked to consider eliminating their police department and “contracting out” to the Hancock County Sheriff’s Office. Voters decidedly rejected that option because they wanted local control; and because the costs of replacing the department with coverage from the sheriff’s office didn’t make financial sense. Contracting out to the county should be taken off the table.
What we propose is that both towns revisit the merger plan of several years ago and that its select boards and town managers be instructed by the voters to devise a workable plan to merge the two police departments. That plan should be presented to the voters in special town meetings.
Schoodic peninsula is one community that shares two municipalities. We have only about 2,250 residents total. Year-round population growth is nonexistent or minimal, but summertime traffic continues to increase, along with all the problems (and benefits) that follow. As more people from out of state buy homes on the Peninsula during the current real estate boom, the two towns must be able to provide credible public safety. One strong Schoodic police department is what our one community needs.