Shortage of part-time police personnel leads to full-time hiring

11 years ago

By Natalie De La Garza
Staff Writer

    LIMESTONE — Limestone’s part-time police offers have played an integral role in staffing the town’s 24-hour police department, but dwindling numbers of part-time officers have given the town reason to fill a vacancy for a full-time police officer.
    The Limestone Board of Selectpeople discussed the future hiring of a full-time officer during their Nov. 6 meeting, during which Limestone Police Chief Stacey Mahan apprised the board of the situation.

    “Our issue is the part-time pool is drained,” Mahan stated. “The state had changed its rules and regulations regarding part-time officers working (over) 1,040 hours; it used to be frowned upon, now it’s fined.”
    According to Mahan, the individual officer who works too many hours would be fined up to $500 for a single infraction — and so could the municipality.
    Also diminishing the town’s part-time police workforce is the fact that three of Limestone’s reliable part-time force have accepted jobs elsewhere, meaning that there are only about three part-time officers Mahan can count on to fill gaps in the schedule. Limestone currently has two full-time officers.
    In June, Limestone voters determined that the town would keep its 24-hour police coverage in a vote of 106 to 98, narrowly rejecting a proposal to reduce coverage to 18-hours.
    Citing that vote, Selectperson Chair Tom Devoe shared his opinion with Mahan.
    “I’m going to stand by what I’ve been saying — the 18 hours hasn’t gone away. We’ve got more budget cuts coming, and I’d hate to see you spend that money on a full-time person just to turn around at tell them ‘they’ve got to go,’” he said.
    Mahan explained that should the town reduce coverage to 18 hours, the department would still need the third full-time officer and cited the Van Buren’s Police Department, which has a full-time chief, two full-time officers and utilizes part-time officers as well.
    While the chief will proceed with hiring process of a full-time officer to maintain the town’s voter-mandated 24-hour coverage, Town Manager Donna Bernier informed the selectpeople of the results from Limestone’s Municipal referendum question on Nov. 5.
    “There were 247 people who voted, and we’re the proud owners of a Rotary park,” said Bernier, informing the board that 192 voters were in favor of accepting the Downtown Park gifted by the Limestone Rotarians, and 52 people were in opposition to the gift.
    Bernier mentioned to the board that the property required a deed, which she anticipated would cost between $400 and $500. The cost had been discussed by Bernier and Rotary Club President Mike Cyr in anticipation of the vote, and there was question as to whom would be responsible for handling the cost.
    “The town voted to accept it, I would assume that we should (pay for the deed),” said Selectperson Gary O’Neal.
    Regarding the recent municipal vote, an audience member vocalized her concerns.
    “What my concerns is that when people come to vote … probably a lot of them don’t have all the background information, they don’t know the ramifications or the history of what’s going on, and that bothers me,” she said. The woman also brought to light that at the town meetings and public hearings, it’s the same crowd of familiar faces turning out and suggested that perhaps another kind of public outreach could be utilized — like possibly knocking on doors or sending out mailers.
    The woman referenced specifically Limestone’s recent voter-mandated decision to assume ownership of the Rotary Park.
    “It’s a nice park and all, but we’re losing the tax revenue from that — what do we benefit from that?” she asked. “I know the town voted on gaining the park, but what’s the benefit to us? And did the townspeople know that?”
    Bernier responded that the benefit to the town was owning the park.
    “It was also one of the focal points of the Downtown Revitalization,” O’Neal explained, “and the funds that were put into it can be used in the match that we have to come up with when we apply for this grant to re-do things in the community.”
    O’Neal also mentioned that through the downtown revitalization process, sketches were drawn up by a consultant reflecting how the town could look, and the park’s aesthetic was conceptualized from those sketches; he also referred to the public hearing held on the proposed park acquisition was held in May.
    As far as voter turnout, Bernier offered the audience member a few numbers.
    “Our annual town meeting had 58 people there; we had 247 vote on our referendum,” she said. “So you do get more people to come in and vote than at town meetings, for whatever reason,” and Selectperson Chair Devoe agreed that the numbers reflected a pretty good turnout.
    The board received the resignation of Marleen Durepo, Limestone town clerk, tax collector, “and all around good person” Selectperson Gary O’Neal added in his motion to accept the resignation.
    Durepo’s last day at the office will be on Dec. 20; Vicki Evens, who was hired by the town last August, will be the next town clerk.
    Limestone Fire Chief Tim Poitras provided the selectpeople with a detailed explanation of the parameters surrounding how a dwelling can be burned for firefighter training purposes. In addition to a fair amount of necessary paperwork, there is a lot that has to be done to a structure itself before firefighters can raze a building for training purposes.
    “It’s really a touchy situation — they really don’t want you burning anything when it comes down to it, that’s why they’ve introduced such stringent regulations about prohibitive material,” Poitras said, expressing his opinion. He offered the example of painted wood — which has to be removed prior to a burn. “How much painted wood is in a home? All of it. So when you get down to it, how much work are you willing to put into this to make it right?” he asked.
    Poitras also described serious stipulations regarding asbestos and lead paint, and the year 1978 comes into play as well.
    “Any structure built before 1978 — regardless — is assumed that it has lead paint,” Poitras said, explaining that a lead paint inspector could be brought in to determine that either the lead has been abated or the lead was never there; asbestos has similar rules. “The homeowner/property owner is the one that bears these costs; it’s up to them to make sure that this building is ready, and it’s up to the fire chief to say that ‘yes, they have all their paperwork and everything is in line so we can go in and do our training,’” he added.
    Poitras also described the practicality of using an area training facility rather than an existing structure.
    “If you want to do that kind of interior attack, Caribou has a training facility, there’s one in Cross Lake — those are all available for use and they’d prefer that you use those facilities that are built for this purpose,” Poitras told the board. “Then you can regulate what you’re burning inside, and usually they use hay and straw. It just makes a lot of smoke, makes a lot of heat, and it’s not really as bad as burning a whole house.”
    Bernier also informed the board that the town has hired Vickie Page for the part-time position with the town office. Her first day was Nov. 12.
    The next meeting of the Limestone Selectpeople is scheduled for Wednesday, Nov. 20 at 6:30 p.m. at the municipal building.