Peter Huntress has lived in Limestone since 1954 and never seen the police department at risk of closing until now.
A police cruiser sits outside the Limestone town office Wednesday evening. Residents voted to close the police department, which has not succeeded in hiring full-time officers or a police chief. Credit: Melissa Lizotte / Aroostook Republican

LIMESTONE, Maine — Limestone will lose its 24/7 police coverage after an official vote from town residents.

Amid a national shortage of police officers, small towns in Aroostook have struggled to fill positions. Van Buren closed its department in 2021 and has since relied on the Aroostook County Sheriff’s Office and Maine State Police for coverage. Limestone is the latest town in that crisis, due to the higher wages and benefits that larger communities like Presque Isle and Caribou can offer.

With no full-time chief or officers, Limestone was left with no other options for sustaining its police department.

The majority of residents attending a referendum vote Wednesday night agreed. All but a few of the more than 50 people at Limestone Community School’s auditorium voted to eliminate the department.

Peter Huntress has lived in Limestone since 1954 and never seen the police department at risk of closing until now.

Huntress voted in favor of closing the department but said that seeing more sheriff’s deputies and state troopers around has reassured him.

“There’s going to be some problems [with coverage], but hopefully we can work through it,” Huntress said. “Limestone has always been a safe place and we want it to stay that way.”

Limestone’s police department has always been small, but recent staff losses have left the town struggling to maintain coverage.

After the death of Chief Stacey Mahan in 2021, several interim chiefs resigned due to burnout or health reasons. When Jesse Cormier, a police sergeant in Fort Fairfield, stepped up as interim chief in fall 2022, he wanted to hire full-time officers and a new chief.

But that has not happened. Both officers Cormier hired resigned due to health issues, leaving him alone to cover the town most days. In recent months, Limestone has received more help from sheriff’s deputies and state troopers, he said during a March meeting.

Limestone officials did not give an exact date for the closure, but said previously they would work out a coverage plan with the sheriff’s office and state police. Both agencies had said that they would ensure Limestone receives weekly coverage, though it will not be 24/7.

Resident Leah Weston voted against closing the department.

“We don’t know what the response time will be from the county [sheriffs] or state,” Weston said before the vote.

The town voted to transfer the approximately $237,000 left in the police department budget to a public works reserve account that the town will set aside for future road paving and repairs. That account had at least $180,000 prior to Wednesday’s vote, interim Town Manager Walt Elliot said.

On a more positive note for Limestone, Elliot said the town office is now fully staffed and open 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday to Friday.

In mid-March, the town office closed after both town clerks resigned. Kelly Johndro began work two weeks ago, shortly after former clerk Chelsea Elliot came back to reopen the office for limited hours.

Johndro is the town’s new clerk, while Lisa Kelly, who was hired this week, will be the deputy clerk. They are being cross-trained to help fill in when needed, Elliot said.

Chelsea Elliot, who is Elliot’s former daughter-in-law, will remain a part-time clerk and work on days when Johndro or Kelly cannot be in the office.

Given recent staff shortages in Limestone and other towns, Elliot said Limestone is fortunate to have two new clerks come in.

“All of them are here and excited about their jobs. I think things have been going great,” Elliot said.