GREENVILLE, Maine — Police Chief Scott MacMaster doesn’t mind picking up someone else’s discards to help his department’s operation.
The Greenville Police Department’s computer system was built from parts discarded at the town’s recycling center. The monitor, the keyboard, computer upgrades and the printer were salvaged from the center.
MacMaster also isn’t bashful about applying for grants or bartering for equipment he needs.
“I call it yankee ingenuity,” MacMaster said recently. “It’s a pain in the butt sometimes, but you make do.” The pain is not having the money to purchase an item and having to wait a couple of weeks until someone discards a similar item at the recycling center, he said.
“It slows down operations,” he explained.
The Police Department operates with a budget of $155,000 a year, which covers the salaries of two full-time and 10 part-time officers, a part-time secretary and the animal control officer. It also covers cruiser upkeep, gasoline and other costs associated with the operation of a police department.
It was a profound change when MacMaster joined the Greenville Police Department about three years ago after serving the Gardiner Police Department. In Gardiner, each officer had a uniform allowance of $500 a year. In Greenville, MacMaster has a uniform budget of $1,500 a year for his entire force. New cruisers in Gardiner were purchased every other year. A new cruiser in Greenville is purchased every four or five years, and one of the two cruisers typically is purchased through the state’s surplus program.
Gravitating toward the frugal end in this small tourist community, however, wasn’t difficult for MacMaster, who claims his upbringing prepared him well for penny-pinching.
“My dad grew up in a family of eight with one income, and I grew up in a family of five with one income, so you [learn to] kind of make do,” MacMaster said. He credited his grandfather and mother with his secondhand thrift.
“It actually comes from my grandfather who is a packrat and my mom who was a subscribing member to the Tightwad Gazette,” a magazine that provided penny-pinching tips, he said.
McMaster figures he saves the department about $500 a year and helps reduce recycling costs for the town.
“I’m a taxpayer, too, so anytime I can save money here, I’m saving on the other end, too,” MacMaster said. “If we’re using something that somebody’s tossing away, it saves on the recycling costs because we have to pay to get rid of that stuff and it saves on my budget because I can get six more months out of a printer.”
When he needs a piece of equipment, MacMaster contacts Tom Gravelle, the town’s recycling center coordinator. When such an item is left at the recycling center, Gravelle calls MacMaster, who quickly scoops up the item. Sometimes he’s lucky and the equipment works, and sometimes he’s not.
The police chief also collects returnable cans and bottles, which he redeems to help pay for his annual bicycle rodeo and for the purchase of stickers and rulers, which he gives to children in his “Cops and Kids” program. The soda cans and bottles salvaged from his department, the library and the town’s trash cans raise about $200 a year for his department, the police chief said.
MacMaster, who dislikes seeing trash spilling out and over trash cans, is known to drive around town early in the morning to pick up any spillage. At the same time, he rummages through the trash for returnable cans and bottles, a move witnessed one day by Harbour Mitchell III, pastor of the Peoples United Methodist Church of Greenville.
Mitchell recalled this week he had been on his way to church when he spotted a uniformed police officer picking up trash. He said he stopped and asked the officer if he could help. When MacMaster said, “No, sir, I’m all set,” Mitchell told MacMaster he was humbled and taken aback by his contribution, and that he had to stop and offer him help.
“What a wonderful image for a community to have,” Mitchell said of that sight about three years ago. He said he figured if he joined the police chief in picking up trash, it would carry an even more significant message to the community.
MacMaster also recalled that encounter. “So here is the chief of police downtown picking up garbage with the local minister,” he said, laughing. He remembered telling the pastor he was recycling when the pastor asked why he was pulling out the cans and bottles from the trash bags.
“I think it sets an example for the community,” MacMaster said. When you see people constantly picking up trash, it “guilts you” into using the trash receptacle, he said.
MacMaster said it’s kind of like the broken window theory. If you have a broken window in a factory or an old abandoned house, get it fixed as soon as possible because if it isn’t, there soon will be four or five broken windows, he said.
“If it comes from the top and you’re not embarrassed and you hold your head high, then it has the trickledown effect — just something as simple as bottles and cans,” MacMaster said.
He recalled that when he first started the job, he would remove the returnable bottles and cans from his department’s trash can. Now, every department employee recycles, he said.
“I’m not by any means a greeny-type person; there’s just small things that can be done to clean up and help the environment and save money,” MacMaster said.
Town employees, in general, all try to cut costs and make do, according to MacMaster. He figured the town saved $20,000 from the volunteer labor firefighters and police officers donated to build the municipal storage garage. He said that he and Town Manager John Simko went to the landfill where they salvaged lumber for shelving for the garage. A Public Works employee who has carpentry skills then made shelving out of the salvaged lumber.
Every effort is made to cut costs townwide, MacMaster said.
When in Augusta for training or a meeting, MacMaster and Simko routinely stop to check out the state surplus equipment, according to the police chief. The pair readily accept donations of used equipment from the local school or residents.
MacMaster called it necessary in a small town to keep costs as low as possible. To do that, he eliminates travel and overtime for training by having the officers do their written training on the Internet at a cost of $50 per officer. When practical training is needed, he attempts to hold the training in his community and invites other departments to join in.
It’s also little changes, such as reducing the cost of uniforms by changing vendors, which have helped stretch the dollars, according to MacMaster.
“The philosophy of pinching pennies at home trickles over to work and some of the philosophies from work trickle over into home; it’s kind of a win-win situation,” MacMaster said. “It’s a lifestyle though. It’s not anything that you just say, ‘tomorrow I’m going to start doing this.’”