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Vinalhaven residents reject money for Sheriff's service

By Stephen Betts | Jul 23, 2020
Photo by: Knox County Sheriff's Office

Vinalhaven — Vinalhaven residents refused to approve a town meeting article that would pay for continued police services from the Knox County Sheriff's Office.

Sheriff Tim Carroll said he was surprised by the July 22 vote.

"I hope we can come to some agreement," Sheriff Carroll said Thursday, July 23. He said he planned to go to the island and meet with town officials next week.

The article to pay $121,335 for police protection was the only article that failed to be approved Wednesday, July 22 on the 48-ballot town meeting warrant.

The sheriff said he would continue the current arrangement of having a deputy specially dedicated to Vinalhaven as Knox County works with the island to see if an agreement can be reached.

The sheriff pointed out that other than North Haven, Vinalhaven is the only town in Knox County which has a dedicated officer. Knox County has had separate contracts with the two island communities for decades on how much the communities will pay in exchange for service.

Vinalhaven Town Manager Andrew Dorr came to Rockland July 22 for a previously scheduled meeting with the county to work on the contract,  which was expected to have been approved by voters. The previous contract expired Dec. 31, 2019.

"The Town of Vinalhaven engages in a contract with KSO for police coverage and the town’s payment towards that contract is seen as too high for the services received," Dorr said Thursday when asked about why residents voted down the funding article.

"Those that offered comments or questions at the meeting talked about the expectation that the deputy live on the island, especially if the town is providing the housing. Other points were directed to the quality of the service, gaps in coverage after the 40 hours per week are filled, and better communication from KSO about requests for service and the disposition of those incidents."

He said next there will be a community discussion about how Vinalhaven can get coverage necessary to meet the community’s needs.

"This meeting is to be determined, but likely to occur within the next two weeks. If the discussion last night was an indication of what may be discussed, it could range from reviewing the KSO contract to an island-based service. The Board of Selectmen are committed to finding a solution that will keep the community feeling safe," Dorr said.

The expired contract called for the town to receive 40 hours of police service each week. The town provided up to $750 per month for housing and up to $4,500 per year for heating fuel and electricity for a deputy. The town also paid for a cruiser and office space.

The sheriff said the island has been fortunate that in the past, deputies decided to live on Vinalhaven and there was a feeling that the officer was part of the community.

The current deputy lives in North Haven and comes over to Vinalhaven for his shifts.

"The bone of contention is that there is not a deputy on the island so they can have access 24/7," Carroll said.

Knox County Town Administrator Andrew Hart said it has been difficult over the long term to find deputies who are willing to live on the islands.

Last year, town administrators from both Vinalhaven and North Haven sent a letter to the county, expressing concern about what they considered a lack of police coverage.

"Our citizens lose faith in the County's ability to meet their law enforcement needs," stated the Sept. 10 letter from Vinalhaven Town Manager Andrew Dorr and North Haven Town Administrator Rick Lattimer.

The lack of regular deputies on the island leads to an increase in lawless activities, according to the town officials.

"You might expect the County to experience a higher volume of 911 calls during times when no deputy is on either island, but that is not the case. Island residents have come to learn that there is little likelihood of the Sheriff's Office being able to dispatch an officer from the mainland to North Haven or Vinalhaven in a timely manner (especially when the problem occurs at night or during foul weather), so they typically avoid reporting," the administrators said.

There has been some recent complaints from residents following a March 27 incident in which a group of people allegedly cut down a tree to block the driveway of people who were on the island with out-of-state license plates. This occurred during the early weeks of the COVID-19 outbreak in Maine.

Then came the June 14 stabbing death of Roger Feltis on Vinalhaven. His friends and family have criticized what they said was a lack of justice in the case. The Maine Attorney General's Office presented the case to a grand jury but the jurors did not find there was probable cause to charge anyone.

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Comments (1)
Posted by: Karen Elliott | Jul 29, 2020 11:22

There might have been justice if they had looked at all the facts and interviewed the other eight witnesses.

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