DEXTER, Maine — The Town Council voted 4-3 Thursday to eliminate the Police Department’s dispatcher-secretary as of June 30 despite pleas from several residents and a business owner to keep the position.
The move, which was opposed by Councilors David Clukey, Judy Craig and Andre Robichaud, was part of an effort to bring in a budget with no increase over last year. Craig, however, said the move ultimately would increase the budget.
“We’re not going to save a damn thing,” Craig said of the position held by Christine Pooler. “I can’t believe we just did that.”
Dexter Police Chief Jim Emerson said Pooler, who has arrest powers, served a variety of jobs in the office. Without her, Emerson said the council could expect to see an increase in overtime and the doors to his department closed more. Since the officers would be typing their own reports and following up on nonemergency telephone calls that were typically screened or answered by Pooler, there would be less time for patrol functions, Emerson said. He also said it would be likely that anyone calling the department’s nonemergency line would get an answering machine.
Councilor Steve Gudroe, who recommended cutting the position, said each of the departments were asked to reduce their budgets by 10 percent and all of them did with the exception of the Police Department. Instead, the Police Department’s budget was 12 percent over last year, he said. The position was one area where he saw a cut could be made.
Others disagreed. Among them was resident Robert Fritsch, who said Pooler had assisted him after his house had been broken into and several guns had been stolen. It was her thoroughness in filing the reports that allowed police to find some of the thieves and recover some of the guns, he said.
The council, however, felt it necessary to eliminate the position to cut costs. The council initially was faced with about a $400,000 increase from last year that included municipal, school and county costs. Although the municipal budget was lower than last year, the town was hurt by the loss of about $202,000 in revenues.
The council on Thursday agreed to a 4 percent increase for department heads — Emerson had offered to forgo his increase in order to keep Pooler — and to pay a 3 percent cost-of-living increase to all other employees. They also voted to pay the code enforcement officer $17 an hour for a 24-hour workweek and voted to place $150,000 in capital outlay and $50,000 in capital reserve for a new firetruck. The Fire Department plans to execute a lease-purchase for the tanker truck.
Thursday’s cuts reduced the gap to $163,029. With little else to cut in the budget, the council voted to take $150,000 from a “healthy” general fund to offset the difference. This will allow the town to keep the mill rate at or near $14.50 per $1,000 property valuation.
Town Manager Dave Pearson said he expected the departments would turn in about $100,000 unused at year end. In addition, $50,000 from the sale of tax-acquired property would be returned to the general fund. These funds would be added to the $1.4 million in the town’s undesignated fund, also known as the surplus account.