WATERVILLE — A message Mayor Nick Isgro posted on social media urging more funding for the police department drew discussion at Tuesday’s City Council meeting after someone called in to the meeting to ask where that money would come from and at least one councilor said the timing of his post was inappropriate.

Isgro had posted on his mayor’s Facebook page Monday that the victim in Saturday’s shooting in Waterville died and Isgro said he was calling on councilors to immediately increase funding to the police department.

“Unfortunately, this shooting is only the most recent in what is a clear uptick in crime in our city,” his post says. “When our police resources are stretched, and crimes become more frequent, maintaining the status quo is not an option.”

Isgro said the funding is needed to ensure there is an “adequate number of officers to round up criminals, have better contact and communication with community members, and send the clear message that if you are here to commit crime, Waterville will not tolerate it.”

“Council Chair Erik Thomas and I were already in discussions with Chief Massey about this before this event, but now it seems evident we must act,” the post says.

The post came a day after about 500 people took part in a march and peaceful protest downtown over the killing of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis. Waterville police and officers from nearby towns walked with protesters.

Isgro said at the council meeting that the discussion about more funding for police was not a recent one — that he and Thomas, D-Ward 7, Councilor Mike Morris, D-Ward 1, City Manager Michael Roy and police Chief Joseph Massey met in March after a little girl was shot in a drive-by shooting. He said Massey explained to them in March that he wanted a couple more officers so as to have a presence in areas where there is more crime.

Isgro said he thinks a crime deterrent is better than policing after the fact. The police department, he said, is one of the most progressive, upstanding and professional departments in the area. “The world’s pretty crazy right now,” he said, citing COVID-19, a contentious presidential election coming up and protests. The police and fire departments suffered cuts during the financial crisis several years ago and they never saw those cuts restored, according to Isgro.

“Both of them have been working in an impaired capacity for a very long time,” he said.

Thomas said the discussion about the need for more police funding has been going on since 2011. The South End used to have a police officer assigned to it, and for a long time the neighborhood has been advocating to get that officer back, he said.

“This is an ongoing discussion,” he said. “It’s a legitimate discussion.”

Councilor Sydney Mayhew, R-Ward 4, said it is important that the city see no tax increase. The police, fire, public works, and parks and recreation departments need additional staff and the council must do more reviewing of needs.

But Councilor Flavia Oliveira, D-Ward 2, said that while she is in favor of supporting the police department, Isgro’s timing in his Facebook post was inappropriate and he should have highlighted the three peaceful protests that occurred over the weekend in Waterville.

Councilor Meg Smith, D-Ward 3, agreed with Oliveira, saying she had received 56 emails from people who were upset by Isgro’s post.

“Do you think we need to have more information, more research done to kind of support your position?” she asked.

Councilor Claude Francke, D-Ward 6, said the council is in “hunker down mode,” budget-wise, operationally and so on.

“We don’t know where the money’s going to come from to support our budget,” he said.

Francke said, however, that now is a time to “look at things globally” and get long-term plans together. Morris concurred, saying discussing police needs is a good place to start.

The police funding debate came after a long discussion between members of the Waterville Board of Education, School Superintendent Eric Haley, school Finance Director Paula Pooler, councilors and Roy about the $25.7 million school budget, which the school board approved a few weeks ago, but which the council has yet to approve as part of a proposed municipal and school budget for 2020-21. A proposed municipal budget total has not yet been set.

They discussed funding needs, uncertain revenues because of the coronavirus pandemic, federal CARES Act funding that is expected to help and whether budgets that are being developed would have to change if the city does not receive the funding it expects.

Contacted earlier Tuesday about Isgro’s Facebook post saying there is a clear uptick in crime in the city, Chief Massey said, “There certainly has been an uptick in gun-related calls over the last several months.”

He cited some gun-related incidents, including Saturday’s shooting on College Avenue that resulted in the death of Joe Tracy two days later. Additionally, Massey noted the shooting of a Waterville police officer who stopped someone suspected of shoplifting several months ago, a girl shot on Summer Street, a young man shot on Summer Street, and a person who drove through Waterville and Winslow firing at houses.

In the last four months, police dealt with three cases involving people discharging firearms inside a house.

“Thankfully, no one was hurt,” Massey said.

Because of COVID-19, police have seen an uptick in mental health-related calls and those from people having a harder time accessing resources, he said. Drug issues remain prevalent in the city also, the chief said.

Massey earlier this year asked for an additional officer in his proposed budget, but the request remained in the discussion-only stage and is not now in the proposal. A request for another public safety dispatcher is in the proposal, however, he said. He said the cost for an additional police officer is $87,885 and that total includes salary and benefits. The cost for a dispatcher is $61,226 and includes benefits, he said.

Roy, who was contacted earlier Tuesday, said it is very possible councilors will bring up the request for an additional officer when they discuss the proposed budget again.

“The budget hasn’t been adopted in a final way at all, so there’s still time for the council to discuss the position,” he said.

In other matters Tuesday, the council voted 6-1 to recognize June as Maine Pride Month. Rick Foss, R-Ward 5, was the lone dissenter. The resolution councilors voted on says the city strives to be welcoming and supportive of all of its members, regardless of race, gender, age, sexual orientation and expression, and the city supports legal nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ Mainers.

The council took final votes to accept a $41,186 federal coronavirus grant for law enforcement technology and equipment and a $30,000 CARES Act grant for operations at the city-owned Robert LaFleur Airport. Councilors took a final vote to approve a lease option with MEVS LLC for a solar facility next to the municipal airport.

They voted 6-1 to waive cloture to allow The Lion’s Den Tavern to use all of the space in Haines Park on The Concourse for outdoor dining. Francke, the lone dissenter, raised a question about whether the council was voting on the item according to charter rules. He also voted against approving the request for the restaurant to use all the space in the park, citing that “procedural deficit.” Again, he was the only councilor opposed.

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