AUGUSTA — A proposal to spend more than $14,000 for extra police patrols downtown for the rest of this summer in response to complaints about illegal and intimidating behavior by vagrants, goes to city councilors Thursday.

Last week, downtown merchants and workers asked the city, at a council meeting, to make downtown safer. They said they’d been attacked while walking home after work, witnessed drug dealing and prostitution, and said fewer people are coming downtown out of fear of being harassed.

Since the meeting, Police Chief Robert Gregoire and City Manager William Bridgeo came up with a proposal to spend up to $14,300 from the city’s undesignated fund balance to pay for increased police patrols downtown for the remaining several weeks of summer.

Bridgeo said the money will be used to pay officers already with the department to work overtime patrolling the downtown, rather than hire a new officer.

Bridgeo said they arrived at the $14,300 figure by estimating the cost of overtime for a patrol officer to spend 10 hours a day, seven days a week, patrolling downtown for the next six weeks.

The officers doing the extra patrols downtown would focus on that part of the city while on overtime, but would still respond to crime and emergencies elsewhere in the city.

“They’ll be there (downtown), absent an emergency that requires them to be somewhere else,” Bridgeo said Tuesday.

Bridgeo said the specifics, including the time of day for increased patrols downtown, would be up to Gregoire and other supervisors in the police department. He anticipates it would include some foot patrols, something merchants said could help when they spoke to city councilors last week about the problems they’d experienced downtown.

Bridgeo said the increased patrols would ensure officers are very visible and would discourage the type of behavior downtown workers complained about.

He said he believes the department has enough staff to fill the additional overtime shifts “to effect the results we’re looking for.”

Bridgeo said state tax increment financing regulations don’t allow the city to use money the city has collected from the downtown TIF district for the overtime patrols.

Instead, the money could come from the city’s undesignated fund balance, a sort of surplus account made up of funds unspent in previous years and reserved for unanticipated expenses not budgeted for in the annual budget.

Steve Pecukonis, downtown manager and executive director of the Augusta Downtown Alliance, said the number of complaints about problems increased this summer, as the weather improved.

Ward 3 City Councilor Patrick Paradis said downtown didn’t have these kinds of problems a few years ago for the simple reason there weren’t many people downtown then. He and other councilors said the problem has become more apparent now because the revitalized downtown has brought more people to shop, work and live downtown.

Councilors are scheduled to consider appropriating up to $14,300 for extra downtown police patrols at their meeting Thursday, which starts at 7 p.m. in council chambers at Augusta City Center.

Councilors are also scheduled to:

• present the Save Lithgow Library Referendum Committee with the mayor’s Community Excellence Award;

• hear an update on the Western Avenue reconstruction project from a state Department of Transportation official;

• consider modifications to city ordinances regulating blasting;

• consider forming a committee to help oversee construction of the planned expansion and renovation of Lithgow Library;

• consider accepting a parcel of land from NRF Distributors Inc., as part of a mitigation plan to offset the impacts of the company’s planned expansion at its Gabriel Drive warehouse;

• meet in closed-door sessions to discuss a personnel matter and pending litigation.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj


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