VEAZIE, Maine — In an unusual move, members of the Town Council this week voted 3-2 to turn down the $156,747 federal grant the town’s Police Department was awarded late last month to hire an additional full-time officer.
Veazie was among nine Maine law enforcement agencies that received word on Sept. 30 that they had been awarded funding from the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Community Oriented Policing Services Hiring Program.
The program provides federal grants to create and preserve law enforcement jobs. It provides three years of full funding for approved entry-level salaries and benefits for newly hired, full-time, sworn officer positions and for rehiring officers who have been laid off or are scheduled to be laid off because of budget cuts.
Agencies receiving COPS funds are required to retain the new or refilled position at their own cost for the fourth year.
Noting the town councilors authorized him to seek the grant in two recent rounds of applications, Police Chief Mark Leonard said Wednesday that he was in “disbelief” about the vote, which took place during a council meeting Monday night.
When the grant awards were announced, Leonard said he hoped to use the money to add a fifth full-time officer but that the grant was subject to council approval.
Leonard said Veazie now has a police force of 11 officers, four of them full-time. He said the grant would be used to add a fifth full-time officer.
Councilor Joseph Friedman, one of the three members who voted to reject the grant, said Wednesday that he did so because he could not support creating a new full-time position given the current economic situation.
Friedman, who said he consulted several taxpayers before deciding how he would vote, said the nation is in the midst of a recession that economists say could last several more years and that accepting the grant would add to the burden borne by town taxpayers.
“It doesn’t make sense right now. It’s not the right time,” he said. “I’m very concerned about what happens when the grant dries up.”
Council Chairman Rod Hathaway, who voted to accept the grant, said he believed the majority of councilors would have voted to accept the grant if they had been given more financial data.
“I frankly was surprised” about Monday’s decision, Hathaway said. He said the council had authorized the application and had accepted similar grants in the past.
“To not accept was shocking,” he said.
As Hathaway, Leonard and Town Manager Bill Reed see it, the grant would save taxpayer dollars over the next four years.
Reed said it costs the town $24,000 a year to have part-time officers cover the shifts that the proposed new full-time officer would work. To that end, the salary savings over three years would amount to $72,000, he said.
Reed said that the cost for the fourth year, when the town would be required to fund the full-time position on its own, would be $17,500, for net savings of $54,500.
Leonard said he hoped the councilors would reconsider before the 90-day window for accepting the grant closes.
Reed said that the grant will be revisited during the council’s next regular meeting, set for Monday, Nov. 8.