Monmouth residents have voted down a police budget.
For the fourth time.
And the repeated rejections are now starting to cost the town money. Not only does Monmouth have to spend about $1,000 to run each secret ballot, but without the police budget, town officials can't set the tax rate, send out tax bills or collect money. The town is now so low on funds that the town manager is looking into borrowing about $1 million to keep it going, said Douglas Ludewig, vice chairman of the Board of Selectmen.
"We're running low. Almost on empty," he said.
On Tuesday, voters rejected funding for the police department and animal control for the fourth time since June. The first two times only two votes separated yes and no. The third time there was a six vote difference.
This time there was a 75 vote difference, with 426 voting against the $256,000 budget and 351 for it.
Selectman are expected to meet next week to talk about when a new vote can be held and how much the latest budget proposal should be.
Since that first vote in June, town officials have lowered the budget $30,000 or about 11 percent, Ludewig said. Monmouth currently has reserve officers and four full time police officers, including the police chief. If the most recent, lower budget had been approved, it would have eliminated the reserve officers and would have cut patrol coverage during the day, on weekends and on some evening shifts. The town would have asked the state police and Kennebec County Sheriff's Office to cover emergencies, Ludewig said.
On this week's ballot, the town asked "no" voters why they rejected the budget this time. About 100 people said the budget was too big. About 150 people said it was too small. And just over 200 people said they voted against a police budget because of personnel issues within the department.
Ludewig said personnel issues likely stem some complaints the town has received about officers and police department procedures.
"A lot of them can't be substantiated," he said. "Most of them, in fact, I don't think could (be substantiated) because all their activities are taped by video cameras in the cruisers and if you view the tapes, they seem just like they're doing their job the way a police officer should. So I don't know why people are coming up and complaining about that sort of thing."
He would like to see at least some of the $30,000 cut restored. He believes that might appease the 150 "no" voters who'd said Tuesday's proposal was too low. Those 150 voters would have been enough to pass the budget.
Town officials are also looking to prevent such repeated votes in the future. Under consideration: holding a town meeting and open vote after residents reject a budget in a secret ballot.
The police department is now operating on last year's budget — which is more than the budget originally proposed and rejected in June.