By Daymond Steer
OSSIPEE — County commissioners last week encouraged Carroll County Sheriff Domenic Richardi to charge towns that get rid of their police departments — or have no police force — at a higher rate than the current $60 per hour when they contract for services.
The March 29 discussion came on the heels of Eaton residents' voting to contract with the sheriff, as well as uncertainty with regard to the future of Tamworth's police department.
In a town meeting vote of 34-31 on March 16, Eaton residents voted to enter into a one-year contract with the Carroll County Sheriff's Office to provide eight hours a week of traffic and law enforcement for an annual cost of $21,819.
Richardi said coverage will begin this week and will run to December. Albany made a similar arrangement years ago.
At the Eaton town meeting, residents said they were concerned about heavy traffic going through town and an increasing number of accidents, such as the one in January, when an alleged drunk driver slammed into the Eaton Road home owned by Peggy Wescott.
Wescott, in an email, said she was pleased with the vote.
"All towns should have a police presence if the town doesn't want to become a victim to robberies, speeding, etc," said Wescott.
"I'm surprised it was even up to be voted on. It should be supplied by the town's tax dollars just like emergency services."
Commissioners, during their regularly scheduled meeting last Wednesday, met with Richardi to discuss Eaton's contract.
They raised doubts over whether the sheriff's contracted rate of $60 an hour for a deputy and cruiser would be enough to cover the costs and thought that perhaps that figure should be changed before any new contracts are signed.
Commissioner David Babson asked when the clock starts on the $60 hourly rate, and Richardi replied it starts when the deputy crosses the line into Eaton.
"What does the car run on while he (a deputy) is getting there — air?" asked Babson, making the point that the sheriff's office is eating the cost of the deputy's commute and that the traveling expense should be built in.
Commissioner Mark Hounsell said, "Sixty dollars is selling yourself short."
Richardi, however, said he thinks the county makes revenue at that rate.
Meanwhile, Tamworth formed a study committee to examine the future need for its town police force. The committee is to make a recommendation by May 25. The committee asked the sheriff for information about services that can be provided.
Commissioners also asked Richardi about Tamworth. Richardi repeatedly assured them Tamworth was not asking for contracted patrols even though the number of calls deputies have had to cover has gone up since Tamworth's force went from three officers to one.
The sheriff went on to explain the various levels of law enforcement service that a town can receive.
Eaton and Albany contract for traffic patrols. Tamworth has been getting aid from the sheriff's office when need be. Meanwhile, Chatham relies on the sheriff for coverage in emergencies but does not ask for additional patrols.
Babson insisted that Tamworth should be billed extra if it doesn't create a police department soon.
"We are doing the police work for Tamworth," said Babson. "We should be charging them ... at the duty rate, or not serve them. We are not in the business to do the police work in every one of these towns. They should have their own or pay us to do that."
Richardi said he "strongly disagreed."
He said the sheriff's office provides law enforcement in the county and that it can't just ignore emergency calls.
Richardi said the sheriff's office also provides backup to Conway and Wolfeboro's busy police departments when they need help.
If the county started charging Tamworth for mutual aid, it would have to do the same for Freedom, Effingham, Jackson, Bartlett, Tuftonboro and Sandwich, which also have small departments, Richardi said.
He reminded Babson that Tamworth still has a police department.
"That's where we disagree, Domenic," said Babson. "They (the towns Richardi listed) are making an effort to have a police force."
Hounsell said it bothers him that Tamworth is "dragging their feet" in getting its department together.
"I'm really concerned that the impact on the rest of the county for Tamworth's tardiness in solving their problem is starting to be a problem," said Hounsell, adding he worries that other towns will ask for sheriff's coverage without paying for it.
Hounsell said later that commissioners don't think it's fair for the county to bear the cost of Tamworth's "slowness."
At the end of the discussion, commissioners agreed to send Tamworth selectmen a letter inviting them to meet with them about their plans for police coverage.
"We are anxious to know what they are doing," said Hounsell.