Bigger police presence?

By Lisa Williams Ackley

Staff Writer

HARRISON — Does the Town of Harrison want to spend just over $100,000, in order to have both a full-time deputy and a summer deputy?

Voters will answer that question and two others via secret ballot, when they go to the polls on Tuesday, June 12, which will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. that day.

The town has had the services of both law enforcement officers — the fulltime deputy and the summertime officer, in the recent past. However, the selectmen said that, due to citizens' concerns regarding the overall cost of policing here, they would let voters make the decision as to whether or not to have both.

The rest of the town meeting warrant (Articles 6 through 32) will be taken up at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, June 13 at the Harrison Elementary School on Route 35.

Articles 4 and 5 have been placed on the referendum ballot, at the request of Edwin Rolfe Jr., who had offered to gather a petition, instead.

Article 4 asks, "Shall the Town raise and appropriate $83,280 for a full-time deputy?"

Article 5 asks, "Shall the Town raise and appropriate $20,093 for a summer deputy?"

Both the Harrison Board of Selectmen and Harrison Budget Committee are recommending a "yes" vote on Article 4 — to maintain having a fulltime deputy, while both are recommending a "no" vote on Article 5 — not to raise and appropriate $20,093 for a summer deputy.

As to why they are recommending a "yes" vote to raise and appropriate $83,280 for a fulltime deputy, the selectmen have stated in writing on the annual town meeting warrant: "Article 4 & 5 have been placed on the ballot at the request of a citizen. While this is not typically the manner uses to vote on a fiscal budget item, the Board recognizes it has been an ongoing topic of debate at the annual town meeting. The ballot provides more people the opportunity to vote on the topic of policing. The Board recommends maintaining the fulltime Deputy as the only policing alternative available at this time."

Yet, the citizen initiative placed ballot questions regarding police coverage also ask if a summer deputy is needed.

Explaining their reason for recommending a 'no' vote on Article 5 to raise and appropriate $20,093 for a summer deputy, the selectmen stated, "Harrison's population increases significantly in the summer months. For a number of years, Harrison has utilized a summer officer for an additional 40 hours a week. Based on citizen concerns regarding the cost of policing, the Board (of Selectmen) and Budget Committee while recommending a 'no' vote, are leaving the decision to each voter to determine if the additional 40 hours per week coverage is necessary."

Police coverage adequate?

Near the end of the selectmen's meeting on May 10, Town Manager Bud Finch said that he has been in his post for a year now, and has had the opportunity to look at the current police coverage the town is receiving from the Cumberland County Sheriff's Office.

"This past year, I've had a lot of time to look at it (police coverage) — we're at the remote end of the (Cumberland) county — these are changing times," said Finch.

Finch said the questions in both Articles 4 and 5 are simple, yet he pointed out that "the explanation is much more complex for Harrison and the move by the selectmen to put the question on the ballot as requested is in hopes of a larger turnout to vote on the question than the typical turnout at an annual town meeting."

Asked for his views on the topic of police coverage here, Finch stated, “This is a very complex question for a town like Harrison and is more driven by the limited affordable options for a rural community located on the outskirts of the county.”

According to Finch, there are three basic ways to look at how one would vote on these articles, “Is it about money and any amount is too much,” “Is it about making sure we are getting our money’s worth,” or is it about, “we don’t like or want police coverage.”

“My view is that Harrison needs a level of policing service and it is my job to bring to the board, and ultimately the town, the options available to provide the necessary level of effective, efficient and affordable service," stated Finch.

Finch pointed out that, in Maine, there are three levels of policing services available  — state, county and local.

"All have their values, pros and cons, for the communities they serve," said Finch. "With Harrison’s location, the best and most affordable solution at this time is with the (Cumberland County) Sheriff’s Office.  We need to continue working with them and on issues, as they arise."

Currently, Harrison contracts with the Cumberland County Sheriff's Office for 40 hours per week of coverage by a fulltime deputy. The summertime deputy position provides another 40 hours per week of law enforcement coverage.

"The key issue for Harrison today is flexibility of hours to provide the diverse coverage the current contract does not allow," Finch said. "This is a complex issue, due to the way contract service is provided by the Sheriff’s Office, but it can be accomplished. The second issue is having the service be more of a 'serve and protect function' than a 'reactionary to a call service.'  A contract that better utilizes the contract time in a manner one would expect from their local municipal department is necessary and can also be accomplished."

Finch said further, "Harrison would be covered by the Sheriff’s Department, with or without the contract for fulltime and summer deputy coverage, but only in a reactionary manner. Having the contract service provides us with the ability to have a more local 'serve and protect service,' by having the deputy assigned to Harrison for a set number of hours."

"If the voters in the town choose to vote against the contract coverage then Harrison’s coverage will be the same as other towns without contract service, 'reactionary to the call,'" said Finch. "A tough choice, but one for which the Board of Selectmen, the Budget Committee and myself believe a 'yes' vote and continued pursuit of improvements is critical."

Other secret ballot articles

Other secret ballot articles being voted upon at the polls on June 12 include:

Article 2 — to vote on two people for selectman for three years; two planning board members to serve for three years; one appeals board member to serve for five years; and one School Administrative District 17 school board director to serve for three years.

Article 3 asks, "Shall an ordinance entitled "Town of Harrison Fireworks Ordinance" be enacted?

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