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Budget committee recommends additional police officer

By Christine Simmonds | Mar 26, 2021
Photo by: Christine Simmonds Thomaston budget committee meets via Zoom March 25.

Thomaston — After some discussion, the Thomaston budget committee voted to recommend an additional police officer as a town meeting warrant item to the select board.

The committee made this decision at their March 25 meeting after approving a proposed police budget of $585,688. This budget does not include any costs for the extra officer.

The police budget for 2020-2021 was $424,404, but did not include benefits that are listed in this year's police budget. This means the actual budget increase is $3,535.

Town Manager Kara George recommended the warrant item as a fail-safe for the budget.

George told the budget committee if they added the new officer to the police budget and the voters did not pass it, the town would then revert to the previous year’s police budget.

If that happened, George said, “I don’t actually know how I would proceed.”

Not all members of the budget committee agreed with the new officer being a warrant item, however.

Ron Gamage said he felt adding a new employee to any department fell under the purview of the budget committee.

If the public works department were to add an additional employee, Gamage said, the budget committee would simply add that into the budget and have residents vote on it.

Gamage said voting in a new police officer in this manner could create a precedent that all new employees for all departments are voted on as a warrant item. “Is that a slippery slope?” he asked.

Charlie Grover said he also felt it was the job of the budget committee to oversee and recommend these positions as part of the yearly budget.

Committee Chair Douglas Erickson said the separate warrant item for an additional police officer was George’s direct recommendation, and if it passed the new officer would then fall under the supervision of the committee. Erickson also said it would just be this one position and not every future position.

George said she would not suggest a separate warrant item for any other department.

“I would not want the whole budget to fail because we asked for an additional police officer,” George said. “This way the budget can pass even if the residents vote down an additional police officer.”

Committee member Susan Devlin agreed with George. Devlin said the town’s budget has increased overall, and the separate warrant item would allow residents to decide if they supported an additional police officer.

In a different year with another budget, Devlin said she might recommend simply adding the new officer, but not for this year.

Gamage said he was concerned that having a separate warrant article might also decrease the chances of the new officer being approved.

Grover asked Police Chief Tim Hoppe if he could survive the next year without the new officer.

“I can survive anything,” Hoppe said. However, he was concerned another year of being short-staffed would cause officers to be overwhelmed.

Hoppe’s request for an additional officer is not new. It is a conversation he has had with the town for years now.

“I have always said that even when we’re fully staffed, we’re short-handed,” Hoppe told the committee. Between speeding, issues at WalMart and other calls, there are not enough police officers to handle needs of the town.

Hoppe said while it would cost more to hire a new officer, in the long run it would reduce costs and lead to more thorough investigations.

When WalMart first began looking into moving to Thomaston, Hoppe said an economic impact study indicated the town would need to increase the police force. This was never pursued by the town.

Hoppe said Thomaston’s officers spent a lot of time and energy dealing with theft and other calls just related to WalMart.

Grover suggested WalMart might take additional measures to address shoplifting and theft at the store.

Hoppe said WalMart did have those measures in place, but the final outcome of shoplifting was still a call to the police.

Erickson asked about the possibility of installing speedbumps or using remote radar to issue speeding tickets.

Hoppe said while the town has been discussing speed bumps or speed tables, Maine law does not currently allow tickets to be issued via remote radar.

While this proposed police budget did increase from last year by $3,535, it did not include any increases in salary for either Hoppe or any officers.

Hoppe said this was part of the union negotiation. The budget included no wage increase, so there could be better benefits offered to the officers.

Once the committee has approved the final town budget, it will then be presented to the select board. After the select board approves it, it goes to voters at the annual town meeting.

The town meeting will be June 8 by paper ballot. All budget committee meetings and select board meetings are open to the public.

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Comments (2)
Posted by: Francis Mazzeo, Jr. | Mar 29, 2021 13:33

Maybe the Thomaston P D needs  a substation at Wal-Mart. They could deputize a few employees to arrest people while working their shift. Thomaston could supplement their income. Burt could push them to jail in a shopping cart.



Posted by: PETER LAMMERT | Mar 29, 2021 12:23

For those sharp eyed Thomaston taxpayers who may have subtracted the amount in paragraph three,$424,404 from the amount in paragraph two, $585,688, the $161,284 difference is almost entirely employee benefits.

Last budget season, the budget committee asked our town manager Kara George and our financial guru Jodel Benson, to add the employee benefits to each department's budget for the coming year to get a better handle on the total cost of a department. Previously the employee benefits for all departments had been  lumped together in a warrant article entitled "Unclassified Accounts."

If the employee benefits had not been added to the Police Department budget, the increase would only have been$3,535.

I hope this clarifies the difference between the Police Department numbers for the two years.

 



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