WATERVILLE — The city is looking at a proposed $228,199 increase in the Police Department budget for 2017-18, with the bulk of increase reflected in wages and salaries, health insurance and a request for three new police cruisers.

Police Chief Joseph Massey told city councilors and others at a budget workshop Tuesday night that he is proposing to replace three police vehicles, for a total of $96,000. He said police are “somewhat desperate” this year and are asking for three vehicles.

“We have been kicking the can down the road for a number of years, replacing our vehicles,” Massey said.

He said police try not to keep front-line cruisers more than three years, as maintenance costs skyrocket after that point and the vehicles present a safety problem. The cruisers run 24 hours a day, seven days a week, he said. He is proposing to replace old Ford and Chevrolet sedans with Ford sport utility vehicle Interceptors.

Detective vehicles are not used as much and last seven or eight years, Massey said. While the department’s Ford Explorer detective vehicle has only 60,000 miles on it and is rusted out, he is not asking for a replacement this year.

“I can probably get another year or so out of it,” he said Wednesday in a phone interview.

Massey said police used $130,000 of drug forfeiture money last year to offset the current budget. The proposed budget could be affected further if the department has to fund the school resource officer position fully, which now is funded mostly by schools.

Massey said Wednesday that he spoke with School Superintendent Eric Haley two weeks ago, and Haley said he is facing budget cuts that probably would mean cutting job positions. Faced with cutting a teacher or the school resource officer, Haley would cut the resource officer, according to Massey.

The schools now fund two-thirds, or $33,000, of the $49,000 position, which includes salary and benefits, and the municipal budget funds $16,000 of it, according to Massey. That officer, Cameron Huggins, works in the schools nine months out of the year, and for three months in the summer he does regular police work.

Massey told councilors and city officials Tuesday night that the school resource officer is important, as he interacts with students, forges relationships, works with families and staff members and helps provide a safe environment. Huggins does a lot of preventive work, and losing the position would affect work in schools greatly, he said. It also would mean police would have to assign an officer to go to schools, taking that officer from other work.

“So I’d ask that that position remain,” Massey said.

Mayor Nick Isgro noted that if the schools cut the funding, the Police Department could add it to the proposed department budget.

“One way or the other, that positions remains in the city budget,” Isgro said.

City Manager Michael Roy said that if the schools cut the $33,000, it would create a hole in the municipal budget. The schools cut a check for that amount each year to the city for its share of the position.

“We’re losing $33,000 in revenue,” he said.

The proposed municipal and school budget for 2017-18 is $39.7 million, a $928,261 increase over the $38.8 million budget for 2016-17. With an increase of $2.17 per $1,000 worth of assessed property value, the current $22.80 tax rate would increase to $24.97. A person whose home is worth $100,000 paid $2,280 in property taxes last year. If the proposed budget is approved, he or she would pay $2,497, or an increase of $217.

The Police Department is the largest department in the city in terms of its budget and number of employees, who provide a high-quality work in a challenging environment, Massey told the council Tuesday.

He said there is no proposed increase in the animal control officer budget, which is part of the Police Department’s budget. Animal Control Officer Chris Martinez is a part-time animal control officer but goes above and beyond in his work, according to Massey. He is required to deal only with domestic animals, but he often picks up dead deer and raccoons and does more than he is asked, Massey said.

“Chris Martinez does just an absolutely tremendous job as our animal control officer,” he said.

The Police Department also runs Operation HOPE, which helps to place people who are struggling with addiction into long-term treatment facilities.

The council on Tuesday also reviewed proposed budgets for the library, airport, human resources and parks and recreation departments.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17

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