VEAZIE, Maine — Despite more than an hour of sometimes heated discussion among elected officials, the Town Council on Monday night stuck by its 3-2 decision last month to reject a $156,747 federal grant the town’s Police Department was awarded to hire an additional full-time officer.
“All I’m going to say about this is that I didn’t support it the first time, and I won’t support it this time,” said Councilor Joseph Friedman, who voted against the grant along with Councilors Brian Perkins and David King.
The two councilors who wanted the town to accept the grant were Chairman Rod Hathaway and Councilor Jonathan Parker.
Police Chief Mark Leonard, who applied for the grant, said he was disappointed but noted that it is the council’s prerogative to accept or reject the funds.
“It’s OK. We’ll go on,” he said.
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.
The council’s decision two weeks ago to not accept the grant has generated some controversy in the small Penobscot County bedroom community.
Some residents, including budget committee members Marilynn Bishop and Travis Noyes, urged the councilors to accept the grant because it would go to another applicant and because rejecting it could hurt the town’s chances of getting grants in the future.
Others, including Al Suddy, thought the town already had plenty of police officers considering its size. Another opponent noted that the town’s plans for the money went against the spirit of the program.
Town Manager Bill Reed, Hathaway and Leonard all said they fielded comments from residents who thought the town should accept the grant.
During the meeting, Leonard provided a memo in which he said the federal funding would result in a net savings of nearly $75,000 during the first three years and a cost of a little more than $35,000 during the fourth year, when the town would be required to cover the cost. He proposed setting the savings aside in a reserve account to offset the salary and benefit costs for the fourth year.
Councilor Brian Perkins, however, brought along a transcript of his e-mail inquiries to officials from the U.S. Department of Justice involved in administering the COPS program in which he was told that town officials can’t use the funds in the manner in which the police chief may have intended.