THOMASTON — About twenty Thomaston residents came out for a public hearing on three articles for a special town meeting Monday, Sept. 20, including an increase to the police budget and additional funding for an engineering study on Knox Street. All residents in attendance expressed support for the warrant items.

The police article will increase the 2022-2023 budget to “revamp” the department schedule, create 24/7 coverage and offer a competitive wage. The article adds an additional $147,406 to the police budget and was approved by the budget committee 4-0 Sept. 8 and by the Thomaston Select Board 4-1 Sept. 12.

Police Chief Tim Hoppe said the department has “had a heck of a time” filling vacant positions. This has made it difficult to provide necessary coverage for the town, and especially difficult to hire officers who would stay on long-term.

Hoppe said Thomaston has been in a “wage war” with other local law enforcement departments. To combat this, he researched other ways police departments around the country increased employee retention. Hoppe said he discovered the 48/96 schedule was being used successfully by law enforcement, after being used by fire and emergency workers for many years.

The new schedule would have two officers working per shift in overlapping shifts of 48 hours on and 96 hours off. Officers would have a scheduled time and a space to sleep during this time, as required by law. This way if an officer is called in during the night, he or she is coming to the scene from the Thomaston station rather than being on-call from their home several towns away.

Hoppe said this schedule would allow Thomaston officers to have more family time, make it easier to plan for when officers are out sick and would provide 24/7 coverage for the town. “Thomaston has never had 24/7 coverage,” Hoppe said.

This schedule would also reduce overtime spending for the town and allow the officers to get better rest on their days off, in addition to giving the town an edge in the hiring pool. He said potential hires would want that guaranteed time off with families.

“I’m excited about it,” Hoppe said. He added there were several applications already waiting if the budget is approved, and expected there would be more.

Resident Susan Devlin said she was pleased Hoppe found a creative solution to this problem.

This budget includes a pay increase for officers and funding to hire additional 1.5 officers, which would combine with a previous half-time position. The additional staff will allow Hoppe to implement the new schedule system. It also includes money for renovations to the police station for a sleeping quarters, which are necessary with the new schedule.

The police department currently has four full-time employees, though they are not fully staffed. If the new budget passes, the department would have seven full-time positions when fully staffed.

In her written proposal for the increased budget, Town Manager Kara George said the $147,407 is “approximately 1/2 of a tax mil or $95 per year for a home assessed at $250,000 with no exemptions.”

The Knox Street article authorizes the town to spend an additional $12,000 from the Dragon TIF funds for an engineering study of Knox Street by Landmark Corporation Surveyors and Engineers of Rockport. This funding is separate from tax dollars and will not affect resident taxes.

The original $15,000 authorized from the TIF in June was not enough for the preliminary engineering report, according to a Sept. 8 memo from Pollution Control Superintendent John Fancy.

Fancy said the additional funding was needed to cover the costs of the report and to work with CMP on installing utility poles. This would avoid moving the poles later when sidewalks were being built.

Select Board Chair Diane Giese said the board has heard a lot about the poor condition of Knox Street, so this funding was to do a “serious study” on the necessary repairs.

George said the project was not just paving but also dealt with stormwater, sidewalks, curbs and other repair measures. She said after this study the town would have project costs to present to voters.

Board member Zel Bowman-Laberge said Landmark indicated the study would be finished in November or December.

Multiple residents of Knox Street in attendance expressed support for this measure, including Susan and Frank Devlin, Chris Rector, Alan Blake, Cynthia Bertocci and Nina Bohlen.

The Devlins said they hoped the project would move forward quickly. Susan asked about seeing the study to ensure appropriate problems were marked. Pete Lammert suggested they find the surveyors during the initial stages.

Rector said this project was extremely important, and he applauded the board for taking this action. He also suggested the project should move forward as quickly as possible.

The final article for this town meeting accepts a donation of land from the estate of Maurice Sawyer, known as Sawyer Pond and Recreation Lot.

George said the land is near the Oceanside Middle School, and the land will mainly be used to extend the hiking trail.

A full recording of the meeting can be found at: townhallstreams.com/towns/thomaston_me.

The special town meeting will be Wednesday, Sept. 28 at 6 p.m. in the Lura Libby room.