ALFRED — There could soon be a heightened law enforcement presence in three rural York County communities.

The three towns ”“ Acton, Shapleigh and Parsonsfield ”“ are considering hiring contract deputies to boost law enforcement coverage, and have scheduled public hearings and special Town Meetings for voters this fall.

If approved, the communities will be taking advantage of a $250,000, three-year federal justice department grant won by the York County Sheriff’s Office that will pay 50 percent of the cost for two deputies for three years.

Acton and Shapleigh, where voters will consider a plan to split the cost and share a deputy for 40 hours a week, would each pay $20,000 a year for three years under the proposal. The cost includes the deputy’s salary and benefits and the cost of a police cruiser.

York County Sheriff Maurice Ouellette said the program would be good for the two communities, members of which each discussed the program with him and then met together to talk about pooling their resources.

“That would be an excellent partnership,” said Ouellette. “Both are lakeside towns with many of the same issues.”

“I think it’s a good idea,” said Acton Selectman Bill Shields.

He said a contract deputy for Acton and Shapleigh will mean a quicker response by law enforcement than is now the case. With the current system, deputies or Maine State Police, who alternate patrolling the 14 communities without police departments month-to-month, could be in the other end of the county when someone in Acton or Shapleigh calls for assistance, he said.

Ruth Ham, who chairs the Shapleigh selectmen’s board, agreed. She said Shapleigh had considered funding a contract deputy position some years ago, but the cost at that time was prohibitive. Sharing with Acton is a less expensive way to try the program, she said.

She said citizens have come to the selectmen’s board with concerns, worried about break-ins and the ability of available law enforcement to respond quickly to issues. As well, a contract deputy will be able to enforce local municipal ordinances, like the ones prohibiting parking in some congested areas that are currently ignored by motorists.

According to figures supplied by York County Sheriff’s Office, deputies responded to 1,050 calls for service in Acton in 2011 and 818 in Shapleigh.

Parsonsfield, where deputies responded to 585 calls for service in 2011, will hold a special Town Meeting Sept. 8, to authorize the hiring of a 40-hour per week contract deputy at $40,000 a year for three years. Ouellette said the northern York County town has a large geographical area and is 40 miles from Alfred, where the sheriff’s office is located, and even farther from some other towns in the sheriff’s office service area, which can mean a long response time unless a deputy or trooper is nearby.

Parsonsfield voters approved a contract deputy position some years ago, but the sheriff’s office didn’t win a grant that year.

Acton will hold a public hearing at 6 p.m. Sept. 13 at the town hall, with a Special Town Meeting at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 27, at a location to be announced.

Shapleigh will host a public hearing at 7 p.m. Sept. 11 and a Special Town Meeting Oct. 2, both at the town hall.

The sheriff’s office has contract deputies in Arundel, Waterboro and Limington and in Regional School Unit 57, where the deputy is the school resource officer.

— Senior Staff Writer Tammy Wells can be contacted at 324-4444 (local call in Sanford) or 282-1535, Ext. 327 or [email protected]

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