WINTHROP — Responding to a number of complaints to police, the Town Council has approved spending $2,312 to hire a police officer to patrol the lakefront and downtown Winthrop on a bicycle for the rest of summer.

One of those complaints came last week, when vandals used human feces to scrawl a crude message on a food wagon that is run by local veterans organizations and borders the town beach. The vandals also unplugged the power source to that wagon, causing food to spoil.

But local officials have been considering the extra patrols since early July, when Councilor Richard Henry first raised the beach problems at a Town Council meeting.

“I myself have found graffiti on a parking spot and markings on a bench,” Henry said Monday evening at the council meeting, before the council approved the bike patrol. “Obviously, we’ve got a bit of an issue down there.”

“This is a unique year,” said Lonney Steeves, executive director of the Winthrop Area YMCA, who oversees the lifeguards at the town beach, later in the meeting. “We’ve never had this many issues.”

The council approved the short-term patrol in a 5-1 vote, with Councilor Barbara Buck opposing the measure and Councilor David Bubier absent. The council also decided to look at more permanent solutions to the increase in complaints, which have included reports of vandalism, disorderly conduct, harassment of lifeguards and violations of beach rules. Buck said she opposed the spending on an extra patrol this summer because it was too expensive for how little time is left in summer.

Councilors first discussed the beach issues in July, and Winthrop police Chief Ryan Frost prepared several figures for the council’s consideration Monday, including the $2,312.40 amount for the new patrol. Frost wasn’t available to attend Monday’s council meeting, so Town Manager Peter Nielsen delivered Frost’s report to councilors.

Nielsen did not indicate what part of the budget the money would be coming from, and he was not immediately available for a comment Tuesday.

That includes $1,862.40 in wages for an officer to patrol downtown Winthrop — including the beach and Norcross Point — from Aug. 13 to 28. The rest of the money, $450, is for bicycle gear and maintenance.

It was not clear if the department will hire a new officer, and Frost was not available for further comment Tuesday.

BEACH PROBLEMS

In July, Winthrop police were called to the beach 11 times and to Norcross Point six times, Nielsen said Monday. But the new patrol also will include the downtown area, where police responded to 125 calls in July.

Lt. Dan Cook said the department is called to the lakefront area most often to deal with disorderly conduct and violations of beach rules. Those rules include bans on smoking, drinking, using foul language, walking dogs and bringing flotation devices into the water.

An officer recently went there after a woman let her child use a flotation device, Frost said during an interview last month. When a lifeguard warned the woman that such devices are not allowed in the water, Frost said, the woman grew angry and swore at the lifeguard. The police officer happened to be nearby and told the woman to not return, and she was not charged, Frost said.

Given the heightened focus on the beach area this summer, Nielsen said, police also have been sending an officer in a cruiser down there every day in recent weeks, at no extra cost to the department.

As for longer-term solutions, Nielsen said it would cost taxpayers $12,500 to hire a bicycle officer to patrol the downtown and beach areas for 13 weeks next summer.

Councilors and residents who attended the council meeting Monday generally agreed about the need for more action to prevent similar problems from occurring next summer, and Henry said he would continue to speak with Frost, Steeves and others on the subject.

Even Buck, who opposed the measure this summer, said she was interested in extra patrols for next summer.

Nonresidents are not allowed to use the Winthrop beach unless they are guests of a Winthrop resident, but several people who spoke at the Monday meeting said those rules are not strictly enforced.

Steeves said that he has had trouble recruiting lifeguards this summer, so the one or two lifeguards who are on duty are normally too busy watching the swimming area to focus on who is using the beach.

PERMIT SYSTEM

John Brennan, who manages the food wagon that was vandalized last week, attended the council meeting Monday and suggested the town consider adopting a paid permitting system to use at the beach, along the lines of what Readfield has used.

In Readfield, both residents and nonresidents can buy permits to use the beach. Those include season passes, as well as day passes that visitors can buy from attendants who work there during summer, said Thomas Donegan, a board member of the Readfield Recreation Board of Trustees who oversees the beach.

Five attendants work there every summer, Donegan said, and proceeds from the sale of permits fund all of the costs to staff and maintain the beach.

“It’s not really a money maker, but it doesn’t cost the town anything,” Donegan said.

Readfield’s beach has rules similar to Winthrop’s, and guests occasionally give attendants a hard time when asked to stop doing something, Donegan said; “but I’ve never gotten into any kind of conflict. It runs pretty smoothly.”

Brennan said the veterans organizations who oversee the vandalized food wagon would be happy to assist the town with monitoring the beach area.

A number of parties have offered donations to the veterans groups since the vandalism was reported last week, he said.

At the Winthrop council meeting on Monday, Councilor Linda Caprara said a permit system would be a good source of revenue for the town; but she added, “I would be opposed to selling beach passes to out-of-town residents.”

Caprara also expressed confidence that the presence of a bike patrol officer would dissuade beach visitors from creating disturbances.

“I think that will make a huge difference,” she said.

Charles Eichacker — 621-5642

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Twitter: @ceichacker