BAILEYVILLE, Maine — The town is tightening its belt in the face of serious budget woes, including cutting a full-time police officer’s position.
The Baileyville Police Department has four full-time officers, including a chief and six part-time officers.
At a budget meeting last week, the Town Council decided to eliminate one patrol officer’s salary from the proposed 2009-10 municipal budget.
Dottie Johnson, chairman of the Town Council, said Wednesday the councilors made the cut after they learned that one of their police officers planned to take a job with the Washington County Sheriff’s Department. The officer isn’t expected to leave Baileyville until sometime in May.
“We have taken the money out of the budget for that salary,” Johnson said Wednesday. “So no one is losing a job.”
Police Chief Phil Harriman said Wednesday he met with the Town Council in January to discuss his budget and the officer’s plans.
“I told them I did not have a resignation in hand, but I did know that an officer was considering leaving,” he said. He said they discussed hiring someone to replace the officer but deferring the new officer’s training costs until next year.
The chief said he learned last Friday the position had been eliminated. Had he known the position was going to be discussed, he said, he would have attended the meeting. But Johnson said the meetings were open to everybody and some department heads have attended every one.
It was unclear how the cut would affect police service in the town. “I haven’t worked out anything because I haven’t heard anything official,” Harriman said.
Asked if the town might lose its round-the-clock coverage, Johnson said the council planned to ask Harriman to remain within his budget “and give us as close to 24-7 as he can,” she said.
It has been a tough year for the town. Earlier this month, Town Manager Luke Lazur resigned to accept a position with the state. Lazur hadn’t been on the job for a full year.
A shift the past few years in the business climate in the mill town has caused a dramatic change in how budgets are prepared.
In years past, Baileyville was the envy of other communities, with three mills picking up the bulk of the town’s taxes. At one time, Atlanta-based Georgia-Pacific Corp. was paying nearly 90 percent of the town’s taxes. Then Georgia-Pacific closed two of its mills and sold its pulp and paper mill to the Montreal-based Domtar Corp.
In 2007, Domtar announced it was shutting down its paper machine, leaving only the pulp side of the business. More than 150 people lost their jobs.
Last year, Domtar asked for and received a $50 million break in its personal property valuation. It is asking for more this year.
“Domtar asked us to take $1 million off the budget and we’re not close to that,” Johnson said. “We have fewer people, we have a lot of older people and we didn’t want to raise the mill rate so we are trying to keep the mill rate as close to the same [as last year] as we can.”
For the past few weeks, town officials have been slicing and dicing its municipal budget.
But the cut in personnel is not a done deal.
The budget will be presented to the public at a hearing in March and changes can be made.
After that, it goes before voters at the annual town meeting. “If they vote the budget down, that too will be a hint” the voters were not happy, she said.