North Country battle escalates: Colebrook won't send police help to Stewartstown
COLEBROOK — Saying the town can “no longer afford to provide services to entities that choose not to fully pay ...,” Colebrook selectmen have notified the town of Stewartstown that, effective April 18, it will no longer send a police officer there “for any purpose, including response at the request of state police.”
The certified letter received Monday was also copied to Col. Robert Quinn, director of the New Hampshire State Police.
Quinn said Tuesday he was “aware that there is a situation” between Colebrook and Stewartstown, adding that he was lining up discussions with the appropriate officials.
“The safety of the public as well as officer safety is our primary mission throughout all parts of the state,” Quinn said, “and I will be meeting to address any areas of concern in the North Country.”
On March 10, Judge Peter Cyr found in favor of Stewartstown in a small-claims suit filed by Colebrook in First Circuit Court in Lancaster.
Colebrook sued over nonpayment for three responses in 2013 by a Colebrook officer to Stewartstown to assist state police on a detail paid for by Stewartstown. The judge said there was no formalized agreement between the towns, but there had been a longtime understanding.
Cyr said that Colebrook’s “billing for backup services violated the agreement although the town of Stewartstown has continued to honor it.”
Colebrook said it costs $225 per call for its officer to go to Stewartstown, which has neither a police department nor fire department. It contracts for fire coverage with nearby Beecher Falls, Vt.
Stewartstown selectmen pointed out that while they had paid Colebrook — at a rate set by Colebrook selectmen — for every time that a Colebrook officer was the primary responder or covered until the arrival of state police — they had never until recently been asked to pay for “mutual aid.”
Stewartstown selectmen also said they had never billed Colebrook for the six times since 2011 when a state trooper on their paid detail provided “mutual aid” by responding to help an officer in Colebrook.
Stewartstown Selectmen Chairman Allen Coats and board members Hasen Burns and James Gilbert said Colebrook is now asking for the $675 for the three Colebrook police responses, plus late fees and court costs.
Colebrook Selectmen Chairman Jules Kennett and board members wrote: “As you may know, the town of Colebrook’s Police Department’s budget for 2014 is $521,325. Colebrook can no longer afford to provide service to entities that choose not to full pay for this response.”
During a conference call Monday evening with the Union Leader, Stewartstown selectmen said they were exploring their options for police coverage.
“We were hoping as a board that this thing would go away,” said Burns, and that the relationship between the towns would return to what it had been before the lawsuit.