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Paris to negotiate contract with Oxford Sheriff
QUESTIONS — Paris Selectman Robert Wessels, center, goes over a draft contract for police services with Oxford County Sheriff Wayne Gallant, second from left, during Monday's selectboard meeting. The board intends to negotiate a formal contact with the Sheriff's Office March 11. Looking on are Chief Deputy Hart Daley and Selectman Gerald Kilgore.
PARIS — The Paris Board of Selectmen intends to negotiate a formal contract for police services with the Oxford County Sheriff's Office before entertaining the idea further.
At their meeting Monday, board members voted unanimously to schedule a March 11 executive session for negotiations with the Sheriff's Office.
If negotiations produce a final document, the agreement will be voted on at the June annual town meeting.
Board members voted to move forward after Town Manager Amy Bernard warned about the consequences of dragging out a process that could create morale issues at Paris PD, with seven officers who were currently in limbo.
"We either want to keep our department or go with the Sheriff. Projecting it out any further is just going to muddy the waters," Bernard said.
Board members noted negotiations could end with no agreement if misgivings about the agreement are not overcome.
Selectmen's concerns include the loss of local control, staffing levels and future costs associated with the agreement.
The board held a lengthy question and answer session with Sheriff's Office representatives Sheriff Wayne Gallant and Chief Deputy Hart Daley prior to the vote.
According to a draft three-year contract provided by Gallant two weeks ago, Sheriff's Office services would cost Paris $638,480 for the first year, then $495,328 for consecutive years.
The draft agreement includes funding for four deputies, a school resource officer and a detective.
Next year's proposed Paris Police Department budget is $591,392, Bernard told the board. This represents a substantial increase over the current year's budget, which Bernard has estimated to be 20 percent underfunded.
Overall, the first year of service by the Sheriff's Office would cost $47,088 over the proposed town police budget, but the town could save $96,064 in consecutive years.
A clause in the draft contract allows for a 2-percent increase in cost after the first three years.
Gallant told board members he would try to avoid that increase, acknowledging Paris already paid taxes to the county.
"I'm a firm believer there should be no increases," Gallant told the board.
Responding to questions from Selectman Robert Wessels, Gallant said the first year's price tag reflected vehicle and equipment start-up costs for six deputies.
He anticipated the Sheriff's Office could use three Paris vehicles, but would need to purchase three cruisers for approximately $28,000 apiece.
Board Chair Sam Elliot worried the town's force would be reduced from seven officers to six. He also wondered if the Sheriff's Office would have the same personal relationship with townspeople that Paris PD did.
"You wouldn't have the same personal knowledge of the town that our own chief would have, I think that's fair to say," Elliot said to Gallant.
He also wondered if possible future inflation and high gas prices would increase the cost to Paris.
Gallant said Paris would not see any additional charges or fees under the contract, noting it was a set agreement for services, not a budget.
Some Paris officers could apply to the Sheriff's Office, Gallant said, but the agency hires only Maine Criminal Justice Academy-certified officers and has no funding for training.
Paris Officer Harry Sims worried the agreement would leave him and several other non-certified Paris offices without a job.
Sims also questioned why the town would request a fully-funded budget from Interim Chief Michael Dailey then look for a cheaper option from the Sheriff's Office.
Wessels said the board looked into the contract at citizens' requests and wanted to see a fully-funded Paris department, not an underfunded force.
Selectman Ryan Lorrain reminded the board a short-term contract might be subject to changes in Oxford County government and suggested the town could not afford rebuilding a police department if future contract terms became unfavorable.
Veteran Paris Sergeant Skip Mowatt told the board he'd like to see an "apples-to-apples," line-item comparison of the Paris PD and Sheriff's Office budget.
"I think everyone in the audience would like to see the same thing so we know exactly what we're getting for our $638,000," Mowatt said.
He urged the board to let the department rebuild instead of considering other options. "We've given you 110 percent," Mowatt said. "Don't let us go because of a $40,000 difference."
The board intends to negotiate the contract during an executive session with Gallant, Daley and Dailey during its March 11 meeting.