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Board votes down SO contract/Paris will keep police force
PARIS — Selectmen nixed a proposal to contract police services with the Oxford County Sheriff's Office during their meeting Monday.
Board members voted 4-1 not to bring the proposal to voters in a referendum, citing their perception that there was little support in the community for dissolving Paris PD.
Voters would have needed to approve the agreement for it to go into effect.
The board held an executive session with Sheriff Wayne Gallant and County Administrator Scott Cole to negotiate a final contract before voting on the proposal.
A draft three-year contract provided to the board by the Sheriff's Office in February put the cost to the town for police services at $609,425 for the first year and $483,000 in subsequent years.
Next year's proposed Paris PD budget is $591,392, up from $505,934.
After Monday's vote, Cole said the final negotiated contract was not substantially different than the February draft.
Citizens expressed near-unanimous opposition to the proposal at the meeting.
Vicky Libby, wife of recently-hired Paris Officer Timothy Libby, said the board needed to plan strategically, noting the agreement did not take into account inflation and would need to be renegotiated, possibly leading to higher costs for the town.
"After the five-year contract there is nothing on the table for us to negotiate with," Libby said.
The town would be better served by investing in training for its officers, Libby said.
Three out of the four Paris patrol officers have not received Maine Criminal Justice Academy certification.
Jason Long said the town needed to recognize the value of its police force, not just the amount of money it could save.
"I'm convinced we stand to lose more value than we stand to gain if we forfeit the PD," Long said.
Paris Sergeant Skip Mowatt, who has previously spoken out against the proposal, said a number of Paris officers lived and paid taxes in the town.
The Sheriff's Office, he cautioned, could hire people "from Bethel or Timbuktu," if it liked.
The only resident who spoke in favor of the Sheriff's Office proposal was Rick Little, who has been a vocal supporter of the idea.
Little said Paris PD had been underfunded and the town could not afford to fully fund it now.
Board members said the support for Paris PD at the meeting echoed the calls from residents they had been receiving.
Vice Chair Bob Kirchherr reminded the audience the board motion was only to bring the decision to contract with the Sheriff's Office to voters, not an endorsement of the proposal.
Selectman Ryan Lorrain said the comments he had received were "one-sided" in support for Paris PD.
"What I've been hearing for the past week is that people would be willing to pay a little bit more to keep our police department," Lorrain said.
Although the proposal was attractive, future change in leadership at the Sheriff's Office or county commission could mean a renegotiated contract with worse terms for the town, he cautioned.
Selectman Robert Wessels agreed, saying residents wanted the town to put more money into the police department, not dissolve it.
Board Chair Sam Elliot said the contract was brought up to resolve some management issues with Paris PD, but the department was running smoothly since Interim Chief Mike Dailey took over in December.
"I hear nothing but compliments at this point," Elliot said.
The proposal could save the town some money, but it also stood to lose financial and management control and personal contact between Paris officers and citizens, Elliot said.
Only Kirchherr voted to bring the proposal to voters in a referendum election.