WINSLOW — The Town Council voted Tuesday to table a vote on accepting a federal grant to hire a new police officer and asked police Chief Shawn O’Leary to provide more information before councilors take up the item again next month.

The $125,000 grant, through the U.S. Department of Justice’s Community Oriented Policing Services, or COPS, program, would fund 75 percent of a full-time patrol officer for the next three years. The overall cost to the town would be roughly $82,000, and that is causing anxiety among councilors who worry about fiscal uncertainty in the years ahead.

O’Leary has asked for more manpower to deal with the increasing number of dangerous and complicated situations his officers are being asked to handle. Winslow police now commonly are dealing with incidents that involve drugs and mental illness that have the potential to become violent.

In a presentation to the council Tuesday, O’Leary said his department already has made 636 arrests this year, compared to 609 in 2014, and the volume of calls for service are set to meet or surpass the same number as last year.

“It’s getting worse and worse, and we are seeing it,” O’Leary said. He was “pleasantly surprised” to hear Winslow had been selected for the competitive award.

“I know money is tight,” he added.

The town has nine full-time officers, including the chief, a detective and a school resource officer, which are not patrol positions. If the council approves the grant, he can put three officers on the road during the department’s busiest times, overnight from Wednesday to Saturday.

The council approved an $83,000 budget increase for the department last year so it could hire a new supervising officer and provide more money for part-time reserve officers. Even with that funding, O’Leary said, filling shifts is still a struggle, mainly because reserve officers have become hard to come by. As soon as the department hires and trains an officer, the person leaves for another job, O’Leary told the council.

He was planning to ask the council for more funding for a new officer next year, O’Leary said. Having a full-time officer could save money in overtime pay when officers are out sick, on vacation or at training, he said.

But the council seemed hesitant about accepting the grant, which would require it to contribute funding and keep the officer on for at least a year after the federal funding expires.

That left Councilor Ken Fletcher wondering whether spending on a new officer now was the best idea.

“Really, what we are making is an $82,000 decision over three years,” Fletcher said. Uncertainty of future state funding in the form of revenue sharing, homestead property tax breaks and aid for schools, which has been declining in recent years, and decisions in the Legislature could have a direct effect on local property taxes, Fletcher said.

“If it was just us and Winslow having control of it, (it) would be a much easier decision,” he said.

Councilor Ray Caron added that the town had been spending down his reserve to offset property taxes, and he said he was worried about increasing property taxes.

“My feeling on this is that it is really money” and not a reflection on the “dedication” of Winslow police, Caron said.

But Councilor Patricia West said that if the council didn’t accept the grant now, it could regret the decision later when circumstances force the town to hire a new officer without federal assistance.

Councilors asked O’Leary to bring back figures comparing the size of Winslow’s department and number of calls for service to those of comparable nearby communities. The council is expected to discuss the grant further at its meeting in November.

Peter McGuire — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @PeteL_McGuire


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