Machias selectmen in budget-cutting mood

Posted March 03, 2011, at 12:46 p.m.
Last modified March 03, 2011, at 4 p.m.

MACHIAS, Maine — As the task of reviewing the proposed 2011-2012 Machias municipal  budget continues, it was clear Wednesday night that members of the Budget Committee and Board of Selectman are in a mood to cut expenses.

“We have to cut $9,000 [from the entire proposed budget] so we don’t see an increase in taxes,” committee member Nancy Manchester said as she reviewed the police department expenditures. By the end of the evening, a possible $5,600 was cut from the proposed police budget of $317,341 and the group briefly entertained a suggestion to trim police patrol back from full-time to part-time.

“That won’t fly with the voters,” Selectman Chairman Aubrey “Skip” Carter said to Selectman Danny Manchester’s suggestion to downsize. “We’ve tried that three times before and the voters will not accept it.”

Police Chief Grady Dwelley proposed a police budget that is 2 percent, or $9,207, higher than the current year budget. He explained this was mostly due to police training costs, which will be reimbursed, higher fuel costs, and new uniforms and gear for two officers who will be attending the Maine Criminal Justice Academy this year. One officer is currently working for the department while the other, who previously worked in Machias, is due back soon from military duty in Afghanistan.

Dwelley pointed out that in 2010, his department returned $54,000 to the general fund by running a frugal department, and that the current budget was $4,000 less than the year before. He agreed with the group that he should not accept a raise. “I know it’s going to be a tough year,” he said.

Carter said that no one felt Dwelley and other non-union department heads didn’t deserve raises, but with current economic conditions, no raises were being awarded.

When the issue of full-time coverage was raised, Dwelley asked, “Do you want a seven-minute response?” He said that the number of calls to the Machias Police for service are pretty much stable for each day of the week and that the majority of calls come between 7 a.m. and 11 p.m.

“But after that is when the serious calls happen,” he said. “The guy gets thrown through the bar window. The wife gets beaten by her husband.”

He said patrol officers for the Maine State Police and the Washington County Sheriff’s Department are off duty after midnight.

“It would only take two or three weeks for the criminals to figure this out and stuff will go missing,” he said. “I think it would be foolhardy to cut the shifts.”

Budget Committee member Ed Pellon agreed.

“The police officer on patrol has to be the eyes and ears for the community after hours,” he said. Pellon said that recently Dwelley spotted black smoke coming from a malfunctioning furnace at one of Pellon’s business properties.

“He prevented a fire by being observant,” Pellon said.

Dwelley said his department has three full-time officers and himself to patrol about 40 miles of town roads.

By the end of the meeting, the group had proposed cutting $4,000 from the town’s match for retirement benefits because none of the current officers has signed up; $850 from boiler insurance they deemed unnecessary; $400 from computer licensing fees; and $350 from the boot accounts.

Dwelley also appealed to the group to purchase a refurbished 2009 cruiser with 71,000 miles and an unlimited mileage warranty. He said the two cruisers the town has — a 2006 with 148,000 miles, and a 2009 — are no longer under warranty and are piling up maintenance bills. He said the ability to rotate between two vehicles has saved the town money but that it is time to replace the 2006 cruiser. The board and committee will take up that purchase when they review capital expenditures on March 30.

The next budget meeting will be at 7 p.m. Wednesday, March 9, when the animal control budget and third party requests will be reviewed. The annual town meeting is set for June 15.

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