AUGUSTA — A proposal to apply for grant funding to help pay for a youth drug education and prevention police officer earned City Council support, but not quite commitment, on Thursday.

Police Chief Robert Gregoire said the new position would help in the city’s fight against a growing opiate abuse epidemic by adding a prevention and education aspect to the multi-pronged effort to fight drug abuse.

He said the city already has made efforts, as part of what Mayor David Rollins and others have stressed should be a multi-pronged approach, to fight opiate abuse by hiring two new detectives focused on enforcement of drug laws, and by working with social service agencies to create a program to refer addicts to drug treatment.

“This would be the third step, when you’re talking about a multi-pronged approach, of prevention and education,” Gregoire told city councilors Thursday. “The primary focus, but not the only focus, of this officer would be prevention and education in our elementary schools and the high school.”

Gregoire is seeking council permission to apply for federal Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, or COPS funding, to hire an entry-level officer for three years. The grant would cover 75 percent of the salary and benefits for that officer for three years. The city would be responsible for the remaining 25 percent.

City Manager William Bridgeo said the cost of a new officer’s salary and benefits would come to around $60,000 a year, so the city’s share would be $15,000 a year for those three years. Bridgeo said the city would be under no obligation to continue funding the position after the three year grant runs out.

“We’ve taken advantage of this in prior years, so this is not a new program for Augusta Police Department,” said Ward 3 City Councilor Patrick Paradis. “It’s a wonderful program. When it gets right down to it, you’re only paying 25 percent to train a full-time police officer. And you get to keep him. Or her.”

After three years, Bridgeo said, the new officer probably would have seniority under the union contract and, by then, less senior officers probably would have been hired. So in three years, when the grant ends, if the city chooses not to cover the funding for the position, probably a more recently hired officer would be laid off. He said if there is a vacancy in the Police Department near the time the grant is due to expire, city officials probably would leave it vacant.

Councilors expressed support for authorizing Bridgeo and Gregoire to apply for the federal grant funding but stopped short of committing city funding for the required local 25 percent match of the cost.

At-large Councilor Marci Alexander suggested using the grant funding to pay the salary of Carly Wiggin, school resource officer in Augusta’s schools now, and have her take on that role, rather than hire a new officer.

“Why wouldn’t we take this funding and take the existing school resource officer position and move it into this one?” Alexander said. “So we don’t have a budget increase. Do we need another body?”

Gregoire responded that Wiggin is already busy handling incidents in school, and is so busy at Cony High School, which also houses the city’s middle school, that she has nearly no time to spend in any of the city’s four elementary schools.

“She’s very busy now (at Cony), with 1,000 student there,” Gregoire said. “When you’re talking the elementary schools, there is still another 1,300 students not being seen by a police officer on a regular basis — not having that youth mentoring, that interaction.”

The officer, if councilors approve and the grant application is successful, would be dedicated to an education program in city schools, and in recreation and other youth programs during the summer, aimed at reducing drug use and abuse.

Bridgeo said a requirement of the grant is that the funding can’t be used to supplant an existing position.

Bridgeo suggested councilors could authorize applying for the grant and delay their decision on whether to include funding for the local match requirement later in their ongoing budget deliberations. He said the city could withdraw its grant application if councilors ultimately decide to not include funding for the local match in the budget. He said an order would be placed on next week’s council business agenda, which, if councilors approve it, would authorize applying for the grant funding.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

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Twitter: @kedwardskj