President Barack Obama’s campaign stop through Portland and South Portland last week drew thousands of enthusiastic supporters, but it also cost local police departments thousands in overtime.

Portland spent $20,885 in overtime associated with the president’s visit. South Portland spent about $8,000 in overtime and had to solicit help from neighboring departments because it did not have enough officers to staff each post.

The local departments are on the hook for that money because there is no federal reimbursement.

“For us, it’s a pretty rare occurrence and we’re honored to have the president visit us,” said Assistant Portland Police Chief Vern Malloch.

South Portland Police Chief Ed Googins said hosting the president is an honor regardless of the purpose of his visit, but he said the $8,000 in overtime will be a hit on the budget. The department is already paying overtime to cover shifts for three officers who have recently retired and one that resigned, he said.

“It does have an impact, but obviously when we develop our budget we have to anticipate there are going to be extraordinary circumstances that come up throughout the year, whether it be bad weather or a presidential visit or some other drain on our resources,” Googins said. He expects the department to be slightly over the $200,000 overtime budget for police operations this year but will cover that with savings in other areas, he said.

Some overtime costs, such as when Portland has to meet federally required staffing levels at the Portland Jetport, are reimbursed by the Department of Homeland Security, but that is not the case when dignitaries come to town like the president.

Also, even though Obama’s visit was a campaign event to raise money for his re-election, the campaign does not cover the overtime costs for police protection.

Steven Scharf, a taxpayer advocate in Portland, said his concern over the lack of reimbursement is not partisan.

“It happens to be we have a Democratic president at the moment. He’s the guy who came to town,” Scharf said. “It could just as easily have been a Republican president coming to town and the cost would have been the same.”

“The issue is the federal government’s lack of reimbursement to local government when a major political figure comes through and causes major disruptions. It is now on the Portland taxpayer,” he said. If the president’s visit is to campaign, then the campaign should pay for it, he said.

Ron Schmidt, an associate professor of political science at the University of Southern Maine, said Mainers might want to prepare for other costly disruptions as the presidential campaign gets under way.

“Most of what I’m seeing in the polling numbers suggest this is going to be a tight race, especially when there’s a U.S. Senate seat in play, which means Maine is going to be on the national agenda more than usual,” Schmidt said.

“That may be a pain,” having to sit through more commercials and paying for security for visiting officials. But it also means issues important to Maine are likely to get more attention, he said.

“I think generally speaking we come out ahead,” he said.

Obama arrived in a Boeing 757 at the Portland Jetport shortly after 4 p.m. Friday and then drove through Portland to a campaign event at Southern Maine Community College. He then returned for a high-end fundraiser at the Portland Museum of Art before leaving at 8 p.m. to return to Washington.

Preparing for the four-hour visit was a time-consuming affair, Malloch said. Capt. Ted Ross, head of the patrol division, spent the entire week before the visit coordinating the city’s response and its interaction with local, state and county police, the secret service, Fire Department and emergency medical services, Malloch said.

The city also paid the overtime bill for security when the president visited in 2010, though it was less because the president spent less time in the city. The city’s overtime budget this year is $423,000 and it is on track to meet that target by the end of June.

“It’s worse in communities where presidents live. . .It’s a significant financial issue for small towns,” he said.

It’s serious business for the officers working those overtime shifts.

“I would say it’s a fairly anxious experience,” said Lt. Bill Preis, who drove a couple minutes ahead of the president’s motorcade making sure everything along the route was in order.

“It’s not so much you’re afraid something is going to happen, because there’s a lot that goes into it and a lot behind the scenes that the public doesn’t see,” he said, “but you do feel anxiety because there’s a big audience and you don’t want to be the one that screws up.”

Preis ended being held over after his day shift ended and worked a 16-hour day.

On the other end, the evening shift had to come in early. But the overtime costs were not as great in Portland as they might have been, said Malloch.

“Because it was on a Friday, the heaviest day of the week for staffing, and because we had at least a month’s notice, we were able to restrict vacations and leaves and everyone was working,” he said.

South Portland drew on mutual aid support from neighboring departments and was able to use fire-police volunteers to man barricades near driveways and other low-risk areas, Googins said.

In terms of the value of the a presidential visit, Googins said that can be measured president’s visit generated a huge outpouring of enthusiasm.

“By the numbers of people we saw that didn’t go to the event, that lined the streets to just wave to him, is to me indicative of what people think of the president coming to their city,” he said.


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