EAST MILLINOCKET, Maine ? Fair-minded. Sympathetic. Hard-working. Affable. Courageous. Those are the words Ralph Dhuy used to describe East Millinocket police Officer Cameron McDunnah on Tuesday, and he’s not the only resident who feels that way.
Dhuy and about 70 other residents asked the Board of Selectmen to reverse a tentative plan to lay off McDunnah and a town firefighter, John Miner, as part of budget cuts selectmen say are necessary to meet an anticipated $810,000 revenue shortfall caused by a looming revaluation of the recently closed Main Street paper mill.
“He’s an excellent police officer,” Dhuy said.
Dhuy gave selectmen a petition that he estimated had about 300 signatures calling for McDunnah’s retention. He and several residents spoke in McDunnah’s favor.
Resident Melissa Doyle said that cutting into the town’s public safety net was the last thing town leaders should do.
“I just don’t think that there’s anyone in this town who would rather have their streets plowed by 6:30 [a.m.] than lose a police officer,” Doyle said during the meeting.
Board Chairman Mark Scally and other selectmen didn’t disagree with the praise for McDunnah. Nor did they like the idea of layoffs.
Besides McDunnah and Miner, their plan also would cut Town Clerk and Tax Collector Angela Cote and five part-time workers with the Public Works Department and the library.
But given the mill closure and a strong desire to avoid a tax hike, plus the recommendations of Police Chief Garold “Twig” Cramp and Fire Chief Les Brown ? who said their departments could live without the positions ? layoffs were the best course, Scally said.
“Every department has taken substantial hits in one form or another,” Scally said.
McDunnah and Miner did not attend the meeting. Earlier this week, McDunnah said he would not comment on the issue at least until selectmen determine their course of action.
Some workers made personal sacrifices to maintain town services. A 28-year veteran fully vested in his pension plan, Cramp will retire June 30 and return to work July 1 as a police chief and reserve officer. This will keep Cramp as chief next year and save the town about $30,000.
Scally cautioned residents to speak of positions, not people, At times he and Selectman Larry MacKenzie became slightly exasperated with the clamor to save one or two positions.
With the town budget still unsettled, state government anticipating vast cuts in municipal revenue-sharing to try to eliminate a $1.2 billion state budget deficit, and mill owner Brookfield Asset Management likely to appeal the taxes it must yet pay on the paper mill, Scally said his biggest fear is that more layoffs will be necessary.
With 450 millworkers, including 83 who live in town, left unemployed by the April 1 mill shutdown, people getting exercised about the loss of a municipal police officer’s position “need to keep their eye on the ball,” Scally said.
“If we have to increase taxes by $200 per household, you will see a lot more people [at selectmen’s meetings] than you are seeing right now,” MacKenzie said. “The silent majority will come right out of the woodwork.”
The final decision on whether to retain employees by accepting a tax increase or by making cuts elsewhere is in residents’ hands.
The board’s budget likely will be finished this week, town Administrative Assistant Shirley Tapley said, but residents can overturn the budget and petition for reinstated positions at the town’s annual meeting, which will be held June 14.