ALFRED — The town of Limington has renewed a one-year agreement with York County government for a contract deputy but said it likely won’t do so next year because the cost is increasing .

At least one county commissioner, Marston Lovell said the town shouldn’t close the door on the contracted service before possible solutions are explored. Another commissioner, Gary Sinden, said towns should be paying the true costs for contract deputies. He said a municipality’s security is not the county’s responsibility, but the responsibility of municipal officers.

Limington, like a handful of other rural York County communities, has contracted the services of a York County sheriff ’s deputy to provide 40 hours a week to the community. The service has been billed as a way for municipalities that can’t afford a municipal police department to boost the regular, thinly-spread sheriff ’s rural patrol.

Limington, like many of the communities who have the contract service, began with a federal grant that provided 50 percent of the cost – leaving the town to pay about $38,000 annually, with the agreement the town would have to pick up the cost when the grant expired, as it did in May.

Limington selectman Bruce Rozett told county commissioners Wednesday the selectmen’s board figured the town would be paying double their original outlay, or $76,000. A negotiation with the sheriff resulted in an $83,000 annual figure, and although it was more than expected, the amount was approved at the March town meeting for a one-year contract that would begin in May.

It took a while for the contract to emerge from the county manager’s office, but when it did, selectmen noted it was for four years and at more than $90,000. They protested, noting the voters at town meeting had approved the original figure of $83,000.

Eventually, the county acquiesced to the original $83,000 figure. Limington selectmen signed it and Rozett attended the county commissioners meeting Wednesday to urge commissioners to sign it as well.

Rozett said selectmen aren’t inclined to include provision for a contract deputy for the upcoming March town meeting if the price is going to be in the $90,000 range because they don’t believe residents will vote for it. Following the meeting, Rozett said many residents are on fixed incomes and selectmen believe residents would feel spending more would be too costly.

County Manager Greg Zinser noted that the $83,000 figure didn’t cover the true cost to the county of providing the service. In the end, he noted, “we agreed to $83,000, but it costs us $10,000 more.”

So next year, Limington may go without a contract deputy. After the meeting Rozett said that would mean rural patrol deputies would respond to calls, but wouldn’t be able to devote as much time to the community as a contract deputy can.

Commissioner Gary Sinden said in putting out the larger figure, the county was only trying to recoup its costs, not make a profit.

“If we don’t cover the cost, the other towns are subsidizing it,” said Sinden. He noted his hometown of Eliot, with a population of around 6,000, pays about $1 million annually to operate its own police department.

“Eliot can’t afford to subsidize the other towns,” Sinden said. “The security of your town is not the county’s responsibility. The Board of Selectmen is responsible, so you have to decide which way you want to go.”

“The issue is (the contracts) have been low-balled for a long time,” said Commissioner Michael Cote, adding he understands why municipalities would feel the cost had jumped higher. “Because it wasn’t done properly in the past, we have to correct it,” he said.

Rozett said if selectmen agree to put a figure for a contract deputy on the March town meeting warrant, they’d have a firm figure by the latter part of January.

Sinden noted Limington had already decided against adding a figure for next year, and urged a vote on the current $83,000 contract.

“I’d like the facts,” said Lovell, who said it sounded to him like the door is still open. “You are more than willing to let them walk away,” he said to Sinden. “Why don’t we try to understand it a bit better?”

Sinden asked Rozett if there was interest.

“We’d absolutely look at a new contract,” said Rozett.

“The other towns are tired of subsidizing,” Sinden said. “If they want to negotiate the actual costs, okay.”

“I understand you wanted to recoup everything,” Sheriff Bill King told commissioners, of the higher figure. “But it was too drastic an increase for them.”

King said some other communities with contract deputies, like Arundel and Waterboro, have expressed concern about rising contract costs. He disagreed with Sinden on who was subsidizing whom – King believes contract deputies subsidize rural patrol.

King also suggested leaving the door open with Limington, adding the town might consider sharing a contract deputy, as some other municipalities do.

“We do have a responsibility to those towns,” King said.

Sinden disagreed, noting Maine has home rule.

Commissioner Richard Dutremble said a future contract could be discussed at a later time and urged action on the current proposal.

Commissioners unanimously approved the $83,000 contract, which expires in May.

— 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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