MADISON — Officer Brett Lowell parked his police cruiser Friday afternoon along the sidewalk in front of the playground near Madison Area Junior High School and started looking at radar to check the speed of cars driving by.

It’s a typical stop for Lowell, who has been working for the Madison Police Department for four years. Afterward, he drove past the high school and through several neighborhoods, checking not just for speeding cars but for any crime, all the while listening to a dispatch radio’s broadcast of calls coming in from around Somerset County.

As one of just five full-time officers at the Madison Police Department, Lowell is charged daily with monitoring the 58 square miles that make up Madison. He’s worried, though, that his job description might change if residents approve a proposal that would dissolve the department and instead have its force merged with the Somerset County Sheriff’s Office.

Voters will consider the proposal Monday at the Town Meeting. If they approve it, it will go into effect July 1.

“I know it’s being presented with the best of intentions, but for the taxpayers of Madison, I think it’s a bad move,” Lowell said on Friday.

Town officials have been considering a consolidation of the local department with the county sheriff’s office since March, when the Board of Selectmen announced that the move would help reduce municipal costs in the wake of a huge loss in tax revenue from Madison Paper Industries.


On Monday, residents will be presented with two municipal budgets — a $2,410,107 budget that includes consolidation with the sheriff’s office and a $2,498,952 budget that would maintain an independent Madison Police Department.

The approximately $90,000 difference in the two budgets would affect the tax rate by less than $0.50 per $1,000 of assessed value, according to interim Town Manager Tim Curtis.

But Curtis said consolidating police forces contributes to an overall lower budget and also makes sense because the sheriff’s office and the Police Department already work together on some cases. If the consolidation is successful, it could help the town save money in future years, he said.

“The police budget is just one part of an overall budget. Our goal is to try and reduce the overall budget to maintain the tax rate,” Curtis said. “We think this will be a good opportunity for the town and the county to work together.”

At a public hearing in April, residents were divided about whether to support or reject the consolidation plan, with some saying the plan would benefit the town by helping to keep taxes down and providing access to more resources at the sheriff’s office, while others argued that they would lose local control and an established relationship with a police chief.

“I think it could save a lot of money, but it’s not worth it,” resident Bill Welcome, 62, said Friday. “I like it the way it is.”


Another resident, Linda Grooms, 51, disagreed.

“It would save the taxpayers money,” she said. “I don’t have anything against the Madison Police Department, but I think our needs would be better served through the sheriff’s office. They also have more access to better technology and more training.”

The plan has the support of all five selectmen as well as Somerset County Sheriff Dale Lancaster, who said the town approached him to see whether he could provide the same level of police coverage through the county at a lower cost.

But Lowell said he and some other officers have concerns about consolidating with the sheriff’s office, including whether they will be sent on police calls in other communities and the level of involvement they will be able to maintain on investigations.

“We’ve been promised our patrol duties won’t change, but I don’t see how they can’t,” Lowell said. “If we are deputies working for the sheriff and there are no other deputies available to go when a domestic comes in or a burglary comes in, in another town, how can they not send us?”

Lancaster has said coverage in Madison would not change under the sheriff’s office and that the only major changes would be administrative. A large part of the savings associated with the consolidation plan comes from not having a full-time police chief. Deputies in the Madison division would cover only calls in Madison. The sheriff’s office, meanwhile, covers an area of about 4,000 square miles. Madison deputies could be asked to respond to a call in neighboring Anson, but would not be sent to faraway parts of the county, Lancaster said.


“The selectmen are concerned about the (tax) rate, and they approached me, asking if I could provide the same level of coverage while trying to save them money. We would be in essence absorbing the department and doing the administrative duties presently done in Madison,” Lancaster said. “The Madison officers will continue to work in Madison.”

Madison officers wouldn’t have to reapply for their jobs and would not lose any pay, although insurance costs for some of them could be higher, Lancaster said.

There’s also the question of what will happen in the future. If approved by voters on Monday, the plan would go into effect for a year starting July 1 and then would be re-evaluated.

“It could change from year to year, but that’s no different than if they have their own police agency and are having those conversations internally,” Lancaster said.

Lowell, who grew up in Skowhegan but also worked in Elkhart, Indiana, for five years before moving back to Maine, was part of a police department of more than 120 officers in Elkhart. He said there are differences in working for a small police department such as Madison’s that he enjoys, but also challenges, such as the fact that most days he works alone and knows that it might take several minutes for backup to arrive at a scene.

“A lot of times, you’re it. I think I have a better working knowledge, though, of everything about the job, because you’re doing it yourself. Rather than calling in someone to do an evidence test or a detective that works a certain kind of crime, you’re doing it,” he said.


Under a consolidation with the sheriff’s office, Lowell conceded, the department would have more access to resources; but he said he was worried about a backlog of investigations.

“They’re swamped already,” he said of the sheriff’s office. “Right now, if I take a burglary case, I follow it through from beginning to end. We follow our own cases from beginning to end.”

That won’t change, according to Lancaster, who said the county now investigates sexual crimes and child abuse cases in Madison. Those resources would continue to be available in Madison, while Madison police officers would continue to handle other investigations that they have been accustomed to handling, he said.

“At the end of the day, it’s up to the people of the town of Madison to decide what they want their police services to look like,” Lancaster said.

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368

[email protected]

Twitter: @rachel_ohm

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