BROWNVILLE — At last month’s annual town meeting, residents — by a count of 131 to 43 — voted to defund the Brownville Police Department after March 31 and rely on the existing coverage from the Piscataquis County Sheriff’s Office for the region as of April 1.
During a selectmen’s meeting April 5 at Brownville Elementary, attendees learned that town officials are consulting with legal counsel on how to proceed. A special town meeting may be held in the future, with potential warrant articles concerning whether to formally dissolve the police department and the sale of police vehicles and equipment.
“At this time we have the department with no funding, we are under their oversight for police coverage,” Select Chair Dolly Perkins said in introducing Piscataquis County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Bob Young.
The police department had been located in the town office on Route 11, and the equipment is being stored at the building with the three vehicles parked outside. Non-emergency calls to the town office — which handles inquiries for the various community departments — are now being directed to the sheriff’s office and 9-1-1 calls are going to the county agency.
Young said the decision on law enforcement coverage was Brownville’s to make. “We are here to do our job and if there is not a police department that is our job and we intend to do that job the best we can,” he said.
The chief deputy said there is no contract between the town and sheriff’s department as the coverage is provided through Brownville’s share of the county tax. An amount of $74,000 for the tax was OKed at the town meeting.
Young said the department currently has two deputies attending the Maine Criminal Justice Academy in Vassalboro, and the pair are scheduled to graduate in late May and hit the road in early June. He said one officer will be assigned to the Greenville area and “one will be over on this side of the county, his primary role is kind of to be the face of the sheriff’s office here. He will become the primary person in this area.”
“We hired these guys with this purpose in mind because we know were weaker in these areas,” Young said, adding that there will be no additional cost to the county communities for the new deputies.
The meeting provided an opportunity for residents to ask questions, and one inquiry concerned a special town meeting on police matters.
“We as a board cannot undermine the majority vote of the people,” Perkins said about the annual town meeting vote in which the police budget was amended from the proposed $167,620 to $35,767 — enough to the fund the department for the first three months of the year. “At this point this is what we have and this is what we have to work with.”
“For this particular issue we will have to meet at some point if we have enough people who want to meet again to look at the issue,” she said. “It is not just about the police department, it is about any issue in town.”
“I think we can provide a good police service,” Young said. “The sheriff is very open to the needs of Brownville, things change and people will listen to you,” he said, should the town wish to explore other options, such as contracting for additional coverage, with the sheriff’s office.
When asked, Young said his department has eight deputies including the two attending the criminal justice academy. He said the response time from the office in Dover-Foxcroft to Brownville could be made “in under 20 minutes.”
“We always have people on call,” Young said, when asked what would happen if sheriff’s office personnel were busy at the opposite end of the region. He said if needed he and/or Sheriff John Goggin could be called in to respond to a situation, and the sheriff’s office also has a new mutual aid agreement with the Milo Police Department.
Milo Police Chief Damien Pickel said this department will head across the townline if asked by the sheriff’s office. “We always work well with the sheriff’s office and Brownville, whatever we can do we will do to help,” Pickel said.
“We will respond to any call for service, not just emergencies,” Young said.
Perkins said the Brownville Police Department had its own mutual aid agreement with Milo, and a week after the town meeting Brownville presented its neighboring community with notice the arrangement would be ending. “They very graciously accepted our letter,” she said.
Town Manager Kathy White said after checking with the Maine Municipal Association,Brownville officials were directed to consult with the community’s attorney for moving on post-town meeting.
Perkins said there are legal guidelines to follow. “We have the ability to dispose of property under certain circumstances,” she said. “We are going to wait until we get the opinion of the town attorney.”
When asked about the contract for former Police Chief Seth Burnes, Perkins said this is also being reviewed by legal counsel. “He has requested we honor that agreement,” she said. Burnes was hired at an annual salary of $55,000.
On Feb. 17, Chief Nicholas Clukey resigned after nearly a decade in the position. When asked at the time, White said she could not speak on Clukey’s reasons for stepping down due to the move being a personnel matter.
Burnes was appointed as interim chief several days later to serve until he could be officially hired as chief. Burnes joined the department in July 2013 as a reserve officer and he was promoted to sergeant in April 2016.
“There was no warrant article to disband a department,” Perkins said, as the town meeting only featured a budgetary article. “It cannot be reactivated with no money,” she added. Police funds — such for a town department or to contract with the sheriff’s office for additional patrols — would need to be raised by a vote of residents.
White said any special town meeting would feature all the related articles, to avoid a need for multiple sessions, and citizens wanting to have items on the warrant should let the town office know as the document will be drafted by the selectmen and then reviewed by the town attorney prior to be being brought forward.