CLINTON — Selectmen are seeking public comment when they consider the rejected police department budget at their upcoming meetings.

Selectboard Chairman Jeffrey Towne said the board will finalize a special warrant about the budget at their next meeting on June 25. He said the board is likely to resubmit the department’s rejected budget for a referendum vote on Aug. 13.

“Discussion at the last meeting tended to be just asking the town to vote on the reconsideration of the budgeted amount,” Towne said Friday.

Thursday, the most common concern selectmen said they heard from residents  wasn’t about the department’s budget, but the number of traffic violations. 

“The comments were complaints about (getting) speeding tickets,” Towne said.

Clinton police chief Craig Johnson said he will most likely attend the board’s regular meetings — scheduled for June 25, July 9 and July 23 — mainly to hear what the residents have to say.

“I may add things if I feel it’s important to convey it to them,” Johnson said.

Johnson said he’s put in a tough position when he’s asked to watch the speed limits closer.

“The hard thing is, we receive requests for traffic control,” he said. “We do the control and we get complaints we write too many tickets.”

Residents complained about an abundance of citations handed out by Clinton police, which increased to 67 in 2012 from 25 in 2011. But Johnson said deciding who to stop is tricky.

“How many is too many? If you want to put limits on it, you’re opening up a dangerous avenue,” he said.

Johnson, who was a patrol deputy for the Somerset County Sheriff’s Department from 1988 to 1999, said there are services local police can provide that state police or Kennebec County Sheriff’s Department can’t.

“There’s accessibility to an officer, there’s response time, you get to know your officers,” Johnson said.

“We’re empowered to enforce town ordinances. Sheriff’s departments and state police won’t touch (them).”

According to Johnson, the department for the town of around 3,500 residents has fielded 2,522 calls so far this year, 26 of which were major crime investigations. Last year, the department responded to 3,165 calls and 1,991 in 2011.

If the budget is rejected in August, another vote will most likely be conducted later in the year, according to Town Manager Warren Hatch.

If the budget continues to be rejected,  the department could be dissolved at  next year’s town meeting, Hatch said.

Voters rejected a police department budget of $197,954 on Tuesday, 267-192. According to the town charter, the department will operate under last year’s budget of $198,044 in the meantime.

Debate has surrounded the Clinton police department before.

In 2009, the town voted down a $196,000 budget 246-227 and again in August, 126-88, even though the budget was scaled back to $175,206. However, a petition drive got the budget on the June 2010 Town Meeting warrant and the lower budget was passed by a vote 595-355.

Jesse Scardina — 861-9239
[email protected]

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