Selectmen decide to leave police department in place

By Lisa Williams Ackley
Staff Writer

The Bridgton Police Department will not be going 10-7, or “out of service” in law enforcement lingo.

In fact, Bridgton’s local law enforcement agency will remain 10-8, or “on active duty and ready for service,” after the five-man board of selectmen voted unanimously Tuesday night not to send the question of whether to disband the Bridgton Police Department in favor of contracting with the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office to voters here.

Selectman Woody Woodward made the motion to “not go forward to referendum to change to the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office,” and his motion was seconded by Selectman Doug Taft, a former longtime Bridgton police officer.

The matter of whether to retain the Bridgton Dispatch Center or make the move to the Cumberland County Regional Communications Center for dispatching services is still pending. The selectmen set Dec. 14 at 6 p.m. as the date and time they will hear a presentation about the Bridgton Dispatch Center and compare that input with the information they received from Cumberland County Regional Communications Center Director Bill Holmes, at their Nov. 16 meeting.

Just prior to their vote on the Bridgton Police Department, Interim Chief of Police Peter Madura told the selectmen, “The officers’ morale for the last two to three years has been the bottom of the barrel, because they have been under a microscope, and I beg of you, the sooner you can make a decision the better, because these guys don’t deserve this.” Madura’s comments received loud applause.

True to their word, Selectmen Taft, Woodward, Earl Cash, Paul Hoyt and Art Triglione waited until they had all of the information they could gather in front of them, including public input, before making the decision they did to keep the police department as it is.

At the meeting’s outset, Selectman Cash immediately debunked the belief of some residents that the selectmen — some of them or all five of them — were in favor of disbanding the local police department and contracting with Cumberland County. Cash said, again, that the board members wanted to be able to make comparisons, but were not intent on disbanding either the Police Department or Dispatch.

“We said we would go the distance and get all the information we could,” Cash told the meeting attendees, Tuesday night. “Did this board say they wanted to get rid of anybody? No. We want to be fair. We want to be open and leave no stone unturned.”

Cash went on to explain that the subject of having a private study and survey performed, with the idea of possibly contracting out law enforcement and/or dispatching services, originated with the Bridgton Budget Committee approximately 18 months ago. The formal study, survey and resulting recommendations by Public Safety Strategies Group of Massachusetts have received mixed reactions from townspeople.

“This came from the Budget Committee,” said Cash. “They added up all the (expenses for) Police and Dispatch and came up with a figure of $1.2 million. You divide that by (a population of) 5,000 and it works out to $240 per person per year. So, the Budget Committee requested the board of selectmen go with an evaluation of the whole operation, to see if we could be more efficient and save money.”

Over 60 people filled the downstairs meeting room at the Bridgton Municipal Complex Nov. 16, seemingly all in support of keeping the town’s local police force intact. Several people stood and spoke in favor of maintaining the Bridgton Police Department in its present form. Resident George Harden asked those in the room Tuesday night who wanted to keep the Bridgton Police Department to raise their hands — and nearly everyone present did. However, when asked by Selectman Woody Woodward if anyone in the room “would like to switch (to Cumberland County),” there were no respondents to his question.

Police officers’ reactions

“Thank God, it’s pretty much over, and we’ll get them to do that (retain) with Dispatch, too,” Interim Chief of Police Madura said, immediately following the unanimous vote by selectmen Tuesday night to leave the Bridgton Police Department as is.

Asked his reaction to the board’s vote, Bridgton Police Officer TJ Reese, president of the Union for the Bridgton Federation of Public Employees, said, “The battle’s half won,” obviously referring to the next step in the process of seeing whether or not Bridgton Dispatch remains operational.

Bridgton Police Department services and costs

A cost analysis prepared Nov. 4 by Town Manager Berkowitz shows a total cost of $736,835 to operate the Bridgton Police Department: $540,969 for Operations/Maintenance; $129,360 for health insurance; $3,580 for dental insurance; $29,355 for IRA; $6,304 for liability insurance; $22,752 for Workers’ Compensation insurance (combined police department and dispatch); $1,869 for vehicle insurance; and $2,646 for general liability insurance.

Add in $7,000 for police coverage of the district court upstairs and $23,285 for a police cruiser, and the total cost to operate the Bridgton Police Department is listed as $767,120.

The cost of Dispatching Services is listed as $261,125, for a grand total of operating the Bridgton Police Department and Dispatch at $1,028,245.

The figures listed above do not include capital equipment purchases such as one police cruiser per year and replacement of radio equipment, including the console. Best estimates of these, according to the prepared cost analysis sheet, are: annual police cruiser, $26,000; console, $125,000; and transmitter equipment upgrade, $100,000.

Contracted law enforcement services

The following information was provided to the selectmen by Sheriff-elect Kevin Joyce during his presentation to them Nov. 10 on what contracted County law enforcement services would be available to Bridgton.

Should the Town of Bridgton have decided to contract its law enforcement services with the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office, Sheriff-elect Joyce said “the total cost of this contract proposal is figured on a ‘worst case’ scenario.”

Allowing for three different salary ranges, due to the seniority or non-seniority of the eight deputies that would have been assigned here, per contract with the town, Joyce listed a low figure of $607,629, a middle figure of $668,582 and a high, or ‘worst case’ figure, of $702,266 for salaries and benefits. Each of these three salary estimates, plus $100,108 for projected operational costs and $198,619 budgeted for capital improvements, would mean a total low cost of $906,356, a median figure of $967,308 and a high figure, or ‘worst case scenario’, of $1,000,992, according to Joyce.

Joyce said he understands Bridgton faces issues such as drugs and drug sales, domestic violence calls, burglaries and thefts, underage drinking, violent crimes, criminal mischief and speeding cars.

Regarding personnel, Joyce said, “Currently, Bridgton has eight police officers, with two of them doing administrative tasks, leaving six officers to patrol on a routine basis.”

The salary range per year per deputy, according to Sheriff-elect Joyce is $38,999 to $48,945, with a Cost of Living increase of 2% already set for 2011.

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