WATERVILLE — Adding $56,000 to the proposed 2014-15 municipal budget for another police officer’s position was the focus of debate Tuesday at a City Council budget workshop.
Mayor Karen Heck supported the move, saying a police position was cut several years ago and it’s time to reinstate it.
She asked Police Chief Joseph Massey what it would mean for his department to have an additional officer.
Massey said it would be one more officer to share calls. If two officers are on a shift with a sergeant, a third officer might spend half his shift in plainclothes out on The Concourse or other places where drug deals might be taking place, or he might go into a neighborhood where a lot of vehicle burglaries occur, he said.
Heck asked Massey to talk about the drug problem in Waterville, and the need for more hands in that area.
“We have a significant drug issue,” Massey said. “We’re no different than any other community in the state.”
The city, he said, has a huge problem with illegal prescription drug use, amphetamines and heroin.
“It’s a priority for us because it’s one of the things we deal with continuously,” he said.
The proposed $3.5 million police budget for 2014-15, which does not include revenue, represents an increase of 7 percent, or $232,845, from the current budget total. The proposed municipal and school budgets total $38.4 million, about a $1.1 million increase from the $37.2 million budget for 2013-14.
That increase is driven largely by lost state revenue sharing, with fixed costs such as insurance representing the remainder.
Increases in the proposed police budget are reflected in wages and benefits, a full-time janitor for the new police station, a new cruiser, overtime and repair and maintenance of the station.
Massey said having another police officer would help his department all around. He said he would like a South End officer in place, as there was for a few years until it was discontinued. That officer was a self-starter who worked with landlords, business people, parents and children in that area of the city. The involvement helped to prevent crime there, according to Massey.
“I think a South End officer — if you talk to anybody down there, (that person) is going to support that 100 percent,” Massey said.
Currently, the city’s school resource officer spends limited time in the South End, but during the school year the officer is involved heavily in schools, Massey said.
He said the detective division also needs more help.
“They all have a caseload that is really beyond what they can handle,” he said.
Councilor Dana Bushee, D-Ward 6, asked who would be chosen to be the South End officer if the council approves the position.
“I get that question a lot. Is it going to be somebody that actually wants to be in that area?” Bushee said.
Massey said the department follows a process when choosing someone to do that job, and it should be a veteran officer. He referred to the officer as “he,” to which Heck added, “or she.”
“Can we just call it a â€˜her’ or a â€˜she’? Because honestly, I think the whole idea of having a woman down there might be a really good idea,” Heck said.
“It’s important to get the right officer down there,” Massey replied, adding that it has to be someone with the right qualities.
Councilor John O’Donnell, D-Ward 5, asked whether the council planned to cut something else in the proposed budget if a police officer position were added. He said he thinks the city shouldn’t be adding items in these tough economic times, especially when the city just told people they have to pay for trash pickup.
“I don’t know where we can get $56,000 to have another police officer,” O’Donnell said. “I’m sorry, but I just don’t think we can.”
Councilor Erik Thomas, D-Ward 4, wondered aloud whether the city could ask nonprofit organizations and institutions such as colleges, hospitals and others if they would donate money to help fund another police officer.
“It doesn’t hurt to ask,” he said.
Council Chairman Fred Stubbert, D-Ward 1, said it’s OK for the city to have a wish list, but another police officer is “not absolutely essential.”
“This city is safe,” he said.
Massey acknowledged police do the best they can, but they deal with a very high call volume in a community where about 50 percent of the people they arrest are not from Waterville.
“Don’t lose sight of the fact that we’re a small service center,” he said.