Phillipston weighs value, savings of making police chief part-time

Phillipston Selectboard (from left) Chair Bernie Malouin and members Nicole Gough and Gerhard Fandreyer discuss the possibility of making the police chief a part-time role, once current Chief Kevin Dodge steps down.

Phillipston Selectboard (from left) Chair Bernie Malouin and members Nicole Gough and Gerhard Fandreyer discuss the possibility of making the police chief a part-time role, once current Chief Kevin Dodge steps down. PHOTO BY GREG VINE

By GREG VINE

For the Athol Daily News

Published: 06-18-2024 5:00 PM

PHILLIPSTON – Police Chief Kevin Dodge recently announced his intention to retire from the post he has held for more than a decade, and the Selectboard is trying to figure out the best option for hiring his successor.

The chief’s current salary is just under $85,000 and during last Wednesday’s Selectboard meeting, Finance Committee Chair Tom Specht suggested that the position be made part-time. Faced with a $175,000 Proposition 2 ½ override to fund town government and Phillipston’s portion of the regional school district, local officials are trying to find ways to save money.

“We’ve had a part-time police chief in the past,” said Specht, “and it worked really well. Having a part-time police chief’s position would save the town half the pay and half of whatever else goes along with that. Part-time worked tremendously well for us before.”

Phillipston resident Don Smith, however, took issue with Specht’s suggestion.

“Things have changed,” he said. “There’s a lot more responsibility for the people who head up our departments. They have to take responsibility for what happens to their people. All of the liability lands on the town and that individual….You’re probably going to have to pay full-time.”

“The chief of police is responsible criminally, financially and all the way around,” said Public Works Director Rick Tenney. “If we think we’re going to save $45,000, I don’t think you’re going to find someone who wants to take that responsibility for $45,000. Before any decision on this, I really think it should be done with input from Chief Dodge.”

Resident Brian Rosengren, who is a police officer in another community, said, “The POST (Police Officer Standards & Training) standards includes a lot of regulations that police departments must abide by. A part-time police chief is going to end up working full-time to make sure all of those standards and all of those requirements are met.”

Selectboard Chair Bernie Malouin wondered aloud whether the town’s fire chief, who is part-time, isn’t burdened with a workload similar to that of the police chief.

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“I think the police chief and the fire chief have two different sets of standards, from what I understand,” said Tenney. “The fire department doesn’t have POST standards, whereas police departments do.”

Malouin noted that both he and Selectboard member Gerhard Fandreyer had spoken individually with Dodge regarding his successor.

“We know his views, his intentions, what he wants,” Malouin said. “I put this on the agenda because I’d like to get the position filled, to start taking some applications and interviewing people. With the ballot question vote coming up, I’m wondering if we should hold off a little bit and see how the (vote) turns out.”

Rosengren asked if town officials had considered the creation of a Police Chief Search Committee, which Malouin said he was open to.

“Why not keep the position in-house?” Tenney asked. “That would show employees of the town that you appreciate their service, and you want to continue to have them work here. It would be good for morale.”

Malouin also floated the idea of appointing an interim chief.

“We’re not going to act on anything tonight, but we can give it some thought and put it back on the agenda,” said Malouin.

Fandreyer said if Templeton voters don’t agree to fully fund their share of the Narragansett Regional School Committee’s FY25 request, then the portion of Phillipston’s $175,000 override slated for the school district might instead be used to cover the police chief’s salary.

Several other ideas were briefly floated before the Selectboard decided to take more time to explore potential options and in the meantime, ask Dodge to attend the next meeting to discuss his views on how best to proceed with both filling and funding the chief’s position.

Greg Vine can be reached at gvineadn@aol.com.