Shortage of police officers impacting coverage in Limestone

1 year ago

LIMESTONE, Maine — Due to recent medical issues, the already small Limestone Police Department has been short-staffed and unable to provide coverage many days.

The town has struggled to recruit full-time officers following the death of former chief Stacey Mahan in late 2021. Interim Police Chief Jesse Cormier, a police sergeant in Fort Fairfield, stepped up last fall. He had a goal of bringing in more officers and a permanent chief. 

But finding officers has been a challenge, leaving the department with few options when emergencies arise.

Most recently, one of Limestone’s two newest officers was out of service due to a long-term hospital stay, said Interim Town Manager Walt Elliot. That officer has since begun working limited shifts on various days.

A second officer is currently not working after dealing with medical issues, Elliot noted. That has left the Maine State Police and Aroostook County Sheriff’s Office to provide on-call coverage. One reserve officer, selectboard member Fred Pelletier, patrols every Saturday.

“We always have coverage but it’s not always a physical presence,” Elliot said.

Selectboard member Chris Durepo brought up the issue Wednesday after many residents came to him concerned about not seeing officers on patrol.

“We sure are struggling here. We’ve got to have a realistic conversation about what our next steps are,” Durepo said.

Elliot said at least one potential new officer has contacted him. Elliot later called an executive session to discuss personnel matters.

Despite recent staff turnover, many other town departments are seeing more positive changes, Elliot said.

Kristen Vines stepped up as interim librarian after the departure of former librarian Stacy Rink last summer. Vines, formerly the assistant librarian, has been the full-time librarian since October.

Spencer Keiser became the town’s new highway foreman in November after having served as interim since August. In January, Limestone hired a new equipment operator, Jamie Huston, for the highway department and is currently seeking a truck driver.

As Limestone searches for a new town manager, the Recreation Department also remains without a full or part-time director. Volunteers and recreation committee members have assisted with programs since last summer.

Durepo, a member of the recreation committee, praised the volunteers for continuing programs in partnership with Limestone Community School.

The most recent after-school program has seen attendance go “through the roof,” Durepo stated.

“There are over 40 participants in grades K to 8, to the point where we’re at capacity,” Durepo said. “They had a successful travel basketball season and created a partnership with MSSM [Maine School of Science and Mathematics] to use their gym.”

In other business, Limestone officials welcomed the town’s newest employee Wednesday.

Jewel Graves was hired as a deputy clerk in late February. She joins town clerk and treasurer Cindy Tardy in the town office. 

Graves wants to use her nonprofit and grant writing experiences to help the town apply for state and federal grants, she said.

Graves told officials that Limestone could be eligible for federal congressional funds through Sen. Susan Collins’ office to construct a new highway department building. The town is looking to replace the current building, which is more than 70 years old.

“We’ve spoken with several contractors and have a meeting next week on what the building should look like,” Graves said. 

Limestone could also be poised to boost tourism through a Marketing & Development Recovery grant from the Maine Office of Tourism.

Funded by the U.S. Economic Development Administration and American Rescue Plan Act, the grants support tourism marketing for regions negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Grant awards range from $100,000 to $500,000, according to the Maine Office of Tourism website.

If awarded, Limestone would be the second Aroostook municipality in recent months to fund tourism efforts. In July 2022, Caribou launched a more aggressive tourism marketing campaign through a $10,000 Entreprise Marketing Grant from the Maine Office of Tourism.

The Limestone Chamber of Commerce could be a likely partner in a tourism grant, Graves noted.

“A grant like that could really change the way we market Limestone,” Graves said.

Elliot noted that Graves will be an asset to the town as they look to possibly hire a more dedicated grant writer. So far attempts to reach two potential grant consultants have been unsuccessful.

The next Limestone selectboard meeting will be held at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, March 15, in the town office, located at 93 Main St.