Hampden councilors accept school resource officer grant in 4-2 vote

Posted Oct. 14, 2013, at 8:43 p.m.
Last modified Oct. 15, 2013, at 9:39 a.m.

HAMPDEN, Maine — Town councilors voted 4-2 last week to accept a $125,000 federal grant that will be put toward the cost of hiring a second school resource officer.

The funds will be used to cover part of the cost for hiring the officer for three years, Town Manager Susan Lessard said last week. In accepting the grant, the town agrees to fund the position entirely on its own for the fourth year, she said.

During a meeting of the town council last Monday night, Lessard said the town’s current school resource officer, Sgt. Dan Stewart, now is assigned to Hampden Academy and Reeds Brook Middle School. In addition to his work with students, Stewart teaches several classes.

The new school resource officer, who likely will be hired early next year, would take over the middle school responsibilities, she said. Both school resource officers also would be available to Hampden’s elementary schools and possibly the elementary schools in the fellow RSU 22 member towns of Newburgh, Winterport and Frankfort.

Lessard said that the grant application for the second school safety position has been discussed with the RSU 22 school committee, which she said was supportive but had no funding to contribute toward the local share for the position’s cost.

Mayor Janet Hughes said that while the price tag was a concern, she believed that the benefit of having a second school safety officer “far outweighs the cost.” She said, however, that she would like to see school officials help with the expense in future fiscal years.

During their discussions about the grant — provided by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, or COPS program — town officials noted that this year’s budget does not include funding for the second school safety position.

Given that, the town likely will draw most or all of the cost for the new officer from the grant award, which will leave less federal funding for the next two years.

The vote to accept the grant was not unanimous, with Mayor Hughes and councilors Jean Lawlis, William Shakespeare and Thomas Brann in favor of accepting the grant and councilors Carol Duprey and David Ryder opposing it.

Not everyone thinks that accepting the COPS grant is a good deal.

Resident Terry McAvoy, who attended last week’s council meeting, called the councilors’ decision to accept the grant “grossly irresponsible.”

McAvoy said that a cost projection for the position provided to him by Public Safety Director Joe Rogers shows that despite the $125,000 in federal funds, the cost to Hampden taxpayers will amount to $198,192 based on the four-year total cost.

Though he attended the meeting, McAvoy said afterward that he did not address the councilors during their deliberations about accepting the grant.

“It just blew my mind [that the council voted to accept the funds]. I was flabbergasted,” he said, noting that during their budget deliberations this spring, councilors slashed this year’s road paving budget in half and did not fund donations to local service and charitable organizations, to name a few.

“I guess I’m just baffled as to how we’re going to pay for it,” he said.

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