WILTON — The town’s police chief resigned unexpectedly at a meeting Tuesday night, saying he was spurred by his fear of the police force being disbanded.

Police Chief E. Page Reynolds said in a phone interview Wednesday that taxpayers raise the issue of disbanding the town’s police department every year, making it tough for someone who is worried about job security and supporting a family.

“The biggest factor was my uncertainties about the future of the continuance of this department and, specifically, the police chief position itself,” he said.

Residents’ lengthy debate over a spike in the police department budget at last month’s annual town meeting, as well as a selectmen vote Tuesday to form a committee to review spending on the force weighed heavily on his decision to resign, he said.

Reynolds started at the police force in 2009, taking a lieutenant position under then-chief Dennis Brown, who he replaced in March as an interim administrator.

Reynolds has been Wilton’s chief since early May.

He said voters’ approval of the police budget was a show of support, but said the selectmen’s decision to form the committee was a mixed message.

Selectman Terry Brann said he has a problem with the chief’s comments about uncertainties surrounding the police force.

It’s “too bad” the town is losing a good police chief, but town officials have made it clear to Reynolds and his officers that the police force has the full support of the Board of Selectmen, Brann said in a phone interview Wednesday.

“The chief is totally off base,” he said.

Brann acknowledged that voters narrowly passed the police department’s budget this year, which increased 8.8 percent to $404,750, with a motion to cut it by more than $30,000 defeated 59-49.

He said selectmen, however, formed the committee to help the public understand that the police department is the town’s best law enforcement option.

Selectman Paul Gooch volunteered to serve on the police force review committee, he said.

“(It’s) an attempt to get our citizens to realize the value of the department,” Gooch said, referring to the committee’s goal in a phone interview.

He is committed to maintaining a town police department in the town of about 4,100 because other options don’t save taxpayers enough money to justify the switch, Gooch said.

“I think the town made it clear that it wanted to maintain a police department after voting for a full budget,” he said.

Selectmen voted Tuesday to have the town manager start searching for a new police chief, according to Gooch. They will consider appointing an interim chief soon, he said.

Selectman Tom Saviello, who has said the town should look at other law enforcement options, did not return a message Wednesday.

Reynolds on Wednesday also talked about the pressures on taxpayers and selectmen to look at other options for law enforcement, either by contracting with the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office or relying on Maine State Police.

“I do understand very much so the strain that small towns are under in trying to fund their own police department, and the need to explore other options,” he said.

He called it an emotional decision to leave friends and colleagues he made in Wilton, where he had been planning to move his wife and four children.

Reynolds had been commuting once every two weeks to be with his family in Connecticut on weekends, he said.

Wilton’s police force consists of six full-time officers, including the chief, and relies on several reserve officers to fill patrol shifts, according to Reynolds. The force shares an administrative assistant with the town’s fire department.

Reynolds said he has several job prospects, but declined to go into detail. His last day as Wilton’s chief is Aug. 6.

He compared the situation in Wilton to Bethel, where voters decided to disband the police department after debating it for years.

“You talk about something long enough, one day it might happen and that’s stressful to live with that uncertainty,” Reynolds said.

David Robinson — 861-9287

[email protected]

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