Limestone residents debate police funding

8 years ago

Choice is between full; part-time staffing

LIMESTONE, Maine — The residents of Limestone, while voicing a myriad of opinions, collectively voted to approve 40 articles during the June 15, 2016 town meeting. While many items were passed in a minute’s time, a handful of issues sparked controversy among local voters.

Nearly half of the two-hour meeting was spent on the town’s police department. The Selectpeople and Budget Committee had recommended raising and appropriating a total of $273,393 for the department, however a motion was made by selectperson Melissa Devoe to amend the article to $225,000, a $48,393 or 18 percent reduction.

After the motion was seconded, Devoe requested a secret ballot vote.

Limestone resident Reed Nonken was the first of many voters to question the proposed cuts to the police department budget.

“I’d like to understand how the department will be funded at a lower rate, what services will be changed, and the cost benefit analysis so we can have an educated discussion about this,” Nonken said.

Police Chief Stacey Mahan responded.

“273,393 is the 24-hour complete budget for the PD to run for the year. Changes from last year are based on retirement, the majority of the increase is from that. Also, we haven’t budgeted for vacation and sick time as we should have. So, by moving to $225,000 you’d be looking at cutting a full-time position and cutting down to 18 or 16 hours. I’d have to look at the $225,000 and figure out how that would work.”

When Nonken asked Mahan about the impact the cuts would have on the department’s service to Limestone, he said the police will likely have a slower response time.

“There are certain hours of the night that would not be patrol covered with these cuts, but instead covered by on-call officers. Again, at $225,000, we would be cutting full-time positions and depending on part-timers a bit more than normal. I can’t answer 100 percent, but I can say that there would be some non-patrol on-call coverage.”

An audience member asked Town Manager Fred Ventresco for clarification on which selectboard members voted for the $273,393 recommendation. Upon hearing that the vote was unanimous, the audience member pointed out that Devoe, who motioned for the reduction, had previously recommended the original figure.

Devoe confirmed that she did approve the original amount, and added that the Loring Development Authority’s reduction of money paid to Limestone, without negotiations, was a factor in her decision to trim police department spending.

“We went from tens of thousands of dollars down to maybe $25,000 this year,” Devoe said. “We didn’t even get paid for all of the money owed last year. Maybe if we were getting our fair share from the LDA, we might not be in the same boat, but when the town of Limestone has to bear the burden and our taxes have to pay for that, and we’re looking at a mill rate of over 25 now, there’s an issue.”

Many in the audience still disagreed with the motion to cut, with one individual stating that DFAS, which employs over 550 people at Loring Commerce Centre, may not be able to remain operational if the town foregoes 24-hour police coverage. Others were concerned that the lack of coverage would block the town from receiving “Business Friendly Certification.”

Townspeople lined up to cast their votes via secret ballot, and Devoe’s motion was turned down, with the original proposal of $273,393 being accepted by the majority.

Other items causing concern among voters included the appropriation of $3,000 to upgrade the town website and an item that, if approved, would “allow the Board of Selectpeople to expend from Reserve Accounts without calling a Special Town Meeting to seek voter approval in cases where quick action is required to purchase a needed piece of machinery from a surplus auction (for example from DRMO) and in emergency situations,” according to the warrant.

Selectperson Paul Poitras amended the motion to not exceed 20 percent of the fund balances, stating that, as a taxpayer, he would like the opportunity to voice his opinion if the resulting purchase cleared the entire account.

“I understand that the town meeting form of government is very awkward, and it often puts a clinker in the cogs and sometimes things don’t move as quickly as we’d like. But it has been the past practice of Limestone to spend reserve monies with voter approval. Voters should have the opportunity to come back and debate whether or not they want to spend those monies,” he said.

Poitras’ motion was amended and approved by voters, and the article was passed with the 20 percent cap.

Limestone locals were split on the website issue, with some wanting to appropriate even more money and others seeking clarification regarding the need for such an upgrade, and wanting to know how long the fix would last until another is necessary.

An audience motion was made to raise the amount to $5,000 and the first vote on this amendment resulted in a tie. The subsequent vote rejected the amendment and the original proposal of $3,000 was accepted by voters.