Town mulls fate of police department

Thomaston crunches the numbers on whether to outsource local police duties to sheriff's office
By Beth A. Birmingham | Mar 12, 2019
Photo by: Beth A. Birmingham Thomaston Police Chief Tim Hoppe, standing, presents some figures to the Board of Selectmen during a meeting March 11. Also shown, from left, are Chairman Peter Lammert, Town Manager Valmore Blastow and Town Clerk Kara George.

Thomaston — After more than a month of working on a comparison of the Thomaston Police Department's cost for attracting and retaining personnel, purchasing and maintaining equipment, adding benefits and the like versus the cost of outsourcing law enforcement services to the county, the Thomaston Budget Committee presented its report at the March 11 Board of Selectmen's meeting.

The rough cost comparison shows the town would save approximately $141,674 in the first year by having law enforcement services provided by the Knox County Sheriff's Office.

An amount of $561,674 was proposed to retain the Thomaston department, after increasing the budget of $509,363 by $52,310 to include estimated cost of family benefits, liability insurance and casualty insurance for the three town cruisers.

The KCSO committed to an initial $420,000, and no more than $450,000, offer for the first year of coverage, proposing four dedicated officers, working 20 hours per day, seven days per week, with the hours of 2 to 6 a.m. served by on-call officers.

Services would include not only law enforcement, but full support staffing, traffic control, detective services, appropriate ambulance service and school visits.

The benefits of having the sheriff's office provide coverage include a higher level of professional services, lower cost because of size and volume, greater headquarters field and support staff for officers, and high level of experienced detectives.

However, what other tasks would be offered as compared to a list submitted by Thomaston Police Chief Tim Hoppe has yet to be spelled out.

"Strong consideration was given to the best way to deliver law enforcement services consistent with the expectations and requirements of the taxpayers of Thomaston," the cost comparison noted.

In discussions with Budget Committee members Charlie Grover and Doug Erickson, Hoppe said his department had little to offer, compared to other area law enforcement agencies, especially in medical benefits, pay scale and retirement benefits -- which contributes to the lack of retention.

Having an officer leave after a year or less is not only expensive, but also hurts the department's "ability to field a mature, effective and experienced police force," Hoppe said.

Hoppe, Sheriff Tim Carroll and Chief Deputy Patrick Polky agreed with the assessment that "it would take a concentrated effort and commitment of approximately five years to get Thomaston Police Department to an appropriate level of law enforcement service."

However, Hoppe did say he believed he could rebuild the department, given the opportunity.

"To give it up is a big decision," Hoppe said. "You lose a lot when you give up that control. ... You've got to do what is right for the town and the people," he said.

Erickson said the general sentiment he heard while investigating the situation is that people would like to keep the police department, but that the town is at a crossroads where health insurance must be included. He also expressed concern regarding what would happen in the second and subsequent years of a contract with the county.

The Budget Committee recommended that the Board of Selectmen get an actual contract from the Sheriff's Office with specifics and costs, including any special duties the board feels should be provided.

To have a more accurate cost comparison, the committee also recommended adding to the Thomaston Police Department's estimate the cost of increasing the retirement to two-thirds benefit and increasing the salary scale to be competitive with the local market.

Erickson and Town Manager Valmore Blastow agreed it is hard to get "an apples-to-apples comparison" when it's not certain who would be filling the open positions on the police department.

The board voted to authorize Blastow to make an official request of Knox County Administrator Andrew Hart to provide a draft contract for law enforcement services by the KCSO based on the tasks submitted by Hoppe and the recommendations of the board, also to include the starting wage of deputies -- both with and without state Basic Law Enforcement Training Certification -- and including health insurance for comparison.

Once the draft contract has been received, the board plans to hold a series of information meetings to pass along the details to the residents so they can respond and make an informed decision at the polls June 11.

Courier Publications reporter Beth A. Birmingham can be reached at 594-4401 ext. 125 or via email at bbirmingham@villagesoup.com.

Town mulls fate of police department
Budget Committee member Henry Carey, standing, speaks during the March 11 Board of Selectmen's meeting in Thomaston regarding comparison being made between retaining the current police department or contracting with the Knox County Sheriff's Office. (Photo by: Beth A. Birmingham)
Thomaston Town Manager Valmore Blastow, right, discusses the difficulty of trying to obtain the most accurate comparison of the costs of retaining the current police department or contracting with the county during a meeting March 11. Also shown is Board of Selectmen Chairman Peter Lammert. (Photo by: Beth A. Birmingham)
Comments (3)
Posted by: GORDON MANK | Mar 13, 2019 09:44

Police officers in the State of Maine are highly trained and MCJA academy certified professionals who are sworn in by an oath of office as employees of the municipality, county, or state agency for which they work. They are not volunteers.

 



Posted by: Francis Mazzeo, Jr. | Mar 12, 2019 18:43

I have never heard of a volunteer police force. Just imagine some gun happy volunteer speeding to Wal-Mart to arrest a shoplifter.



Posted by: Mary A McKeever | Mar 12, 2019 16:55

Where is the volunteerism and how one would get a call at work and the employee would understand the duty of responding. This no-cost volunteer force was also condoned by all business' in the area. Now health Insurance? Now burdening the town with costs? Time sure has changed.

 



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