Paris residents to vote on police coverage at June town meeting

by Tony Reaves, Staff Writer Sun Journal April 9, 2013

PARIS — The decision on whether to contract the Oxford County Sheriff's Office for police coverage and disband the Paris Police Department will go to voters at the June 11 town meeting.

A month after selectmen voted 4-1 not to add the question to the town meeting warrant, they took a second vote Monday night and unanimously approved doing so.

Before the vote, Selectman Ryan Lorrain motioned to reconsider the earlier decision, and it passed.

Selectman Gerald Kilgore, who had said he meant to vote to put it on the warrant the first time, said there were many vocal supporters of contracting with the Sheriff's Office and that the town needed to put the issue to rest one way or the other. “We know it's going to be brought up again, and we've been told it's going to be brought up again,” Kilgore said.

“Let's get it over with, bite the bullet,” Kilgore said.

Selectman Robert Wessels agreed and called for a healthy discussion of the two options. He said he supported the Paris Police Department and believed the town did too. But it would be best to resolve the issue publicly, he said.

He said that after the board's vote in March, the decision “lasted for a good 10 days” before calls for a public vote on the Sheriff's Office returned.

Vice Chairman Robert Kirchherr clarified, as he did in March, that a vote to put the question on the ballot was not an endorsement of entering a contract with the Sheriff's Office, but only a willingness to let Paris taxpayers make a decision.

According to a draft three-year contract provided to Town Manager Amy Bernard by Sheriff Wayne Gallant in February, services provided by the Sheriff's Office would cost $638,480 the first year and $495,328 for consecutive years. The first year includes start-up costs such as equipment for the six new deputies the Sheriff's Office would hire.

Before the vote, Paris police Sgt. Skip Mowatt told the board they had been elected to represent the will of the voters. “You gentlemen are the voice of everybody,” he said. He asked if the town would also consider sourcing out its fire coverage and town administration.

“I'm sorry if I sound rough, if I sound gruff. It's been a rough couple of years for the department.”

Before the meeting, a small group gathered in front of the Town Office holding signs in support of the Police Department.

Theresa Toothaker of Paris said an immediate savings from the Sheriff's Office didn't mean the town would save money forever. She said Paris police should stay on the job. “They're doing a very good job,” she said.

Another, Leah Libby, said the Sheriff's Office wouldn't know the town as well and patrol back roads the way Paris police officers do.

The issue will be on the town meeting warrant for June 11. If residents vote for the Sheriff's Office, selectmen will enter a three-year contract. A clause in the contract allows for an increase of up to 2 percent after the first three years, but Gallant said in February that he opposed any cost increases for the town.