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Presque Isle City Council spars with department heads in budget meeting

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Presque Isle City Hall was filled with budget wrangling on Wednesday night, as councilors debated a laundry list of budget proposals with attending department heads in a budget workshop meeting.  

There were 75 total items on the agenda, encompassing practically all of the Star City’s public services.

Much of the meeting consisted of a call-and-response discussion between members of the council and department heads in the audience. The back-and-forth was generally friendly but showcased apparent disagreements between the two sides over budgeting. 

Chairman of the City Council Mike Chasse said that the department heads had initially asked for $1.3 million in additional funding over last year’s budget. City officials eventually brought that number down to about $125,000 in negotiations City Manager Martin Puckett described as “painstaking.” 

One budget proposal from the parks department, concerning the watering of trees within Presque Isle, ended up being given far fewer funds than initially requested by Recreation and Parks Director Chris Beaulieu. 

The Parks Department had originally requested more than $15,000 for the task. Yet, the council ended up recommending only $5,000 for the job.

Reached after the budget meeting, Beaulieu said that he understood the council’s position on the issue. 

“They’ve got a broader scope than I have, and have to make some priorities,” Beaulieu said. 

Beaulieu was not the only person to receive less than requested. Fire Department Chief Darrell White had asked for $100,000 to be put toward replacing one of the department’s fire trucks. The council ended up recommending $50,000.

White, however, said that the shortfall was not an issue and that he was still hopeful the fire department would be able to replace the truck sometime in 2020. 

One of the most contentious department-council debates concerned the hiring of a deputy chief to the Presque Isle Police Department. The proposal would have added a deputy police chief position at the cost of $70,000 while removing one vacant patrol officer position. 

There are currently five vacant spots on the Presque Isle Police, with a sixth vacancy occurring in July, according to Presque Isle Police Chief Laurie Kelly. 

Despite opposition from Kelly, the council voted 5-1 to support the creation of a deputy police chief position.

Kelly said that the hiring of more officers who could patrol Presque Isle was more critical to her department than the hiring of a deputy chief. 

“Quite frankly, we need boots on the ground,” Kelly said. “It’s very dangerous to only have two people on shift at any given time.” 

Many councilors seemed interested in establishing the deputy position on the force, believing that it could ensure long-term success for the department. 

“We appreciate all the work you’ve done, but we want a smooth succession down the road when you are not here,” Councillor Kevin Freeman said directly to Kelly. 

At various points in the meeting, Chairman of the City Council Mike Chasse reiterated the importance of utilizing local revenue to renovate city hall. Chasse pointed to many potential areas of improvement, including a stain on the floor of the council chambers yards away from his seat. 

“I hope there can be a little more willingness to work with us, because look at the room we are in right now,” Chasse said. “I think you guys could do a better job of finding money to put into city hall than I could.” 

In an executive session after the public meeting, Puckett said that the council discussed approving waivers of foreclosures for 17 properties that had yet to pay taxes owed from 2017. They also discussed what he described as a “retire/rehire proposal.” Both votes were ultimately approved in a public session afterward, according to Councilor Craig Green .

About 10 spectators attended the event, almost entirely city employees.

Councillor Doug Cyr was absent from the meeting for undisclosed reasons. He was the only councilman not to attend. 

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