RUMFORD — Selectmen took the voice of taxpayers who rejected their proposed $8 million municipal budget last week to heart Tuesday night.
The board began work at a special meeting to hack out the town's "new reality," as Selectman Brad Adley called it. That new reality means job losses in municipal government.
Without taking any input from police Chief Stacy Carter on his proposed reduction, Selectmen Chairman Greg Buccina proposed to cut Carter's budget to $711,355. That was a $106,301 reduction from the department's budget of $817,656 that failed to pass on June 11.
Selectman Jolene Lovejoy and Adley said they thought selectmen were going to listen to department heads propose budget reductions. Buccina said he was going to share his figures, which he then did.
Afterwards, Carter was asked to state how that would affect the police level of service. Carter said the department would lose a detective, a dispatcher and a utility officer and greatly reduce the department's effectiveness at combating drugs.
"I understand that, but personally, we need to get a budget that will pass," Buccina said. "I understand there will be a reduction in manpower, but we need to change the way we do things now."
He suggested looking at sharing police services with Oxford County and relying on mutual aid with Mexico.
Buccina said he wasn't being naive to the fact that jobs will be lost by budget cuts.
Newly elected Selectman Frank DiConzo said he'd rather just cut the police budget to $400,000 and let Chief Carter work out the details.
One woman said she didn't want to see the department lose a detective.
"There are more and more drugs coming into this town," she said. "It's easy to say 'cut 10 percent across the board' because of the situation this town is in. But because of suicides and drugs and kids on the streets, we need our police coverage," she said. "I want to feel safe in my home."
Buccina said the board has been mandated by the June 11 budget defeat to reduce the budget to a level taxpayers will support.
Selectman Jeff Sterling said the board all knew coming into the meeting that it would be cutting jobs. He said that with Buccina's proposal, it would mean only two officers on the street and one detective instead of two.
"Is it optimal? Probably not," he said. "We are going to do what we need to do in the town of Rumford with less people."
Carter said he needed to keep officers on the street to protect residents, the community and his own officers. He said they cannot rely on mutual aid from the county, state police or Mexico because they may not be available.
"We can't put people's safety in jeopardy," Carter said.
"I hear you," Buccina said. "Unfortunately, the people voted down the budget."
Buccina then said that taxpayers "suffering" through the reduced level of services next year might reconsider the budget cuts.
When asked if he had a proposal, Carter said $716,274. He said that would eliminate a detective and close the department's dispatch office.
The board then voted 1-4 against Buccina's proposed cut, then approved Carter's proposal of $716,274.
After almost as much discussion on the police budget for the animal control officer budget, selectmen eventually pared it from $26,994 to $23,563.
The board then reduced the fire department budget of $733,850 to fire Chief Bob Chase's proposal of $625,528. Chase said that would keep two men on shift who could only bring one truck to a fire. Then there would be a delay until enough manpower and equipment could be mustered either with the call force or mutual aid.
The board reduced the department's emergency management from $7,737 to $6,237, which Deputy Chief Richard Coulombe proposed.
Selectmen then launched into the Public Works budget. They pared sewer maintenance from $43,571 to $42,071 and cut the Summer Roads budget from $324,890 to Buccina's $280,910. Superintendent Andy Russell said that will mean the loss of one, possibly two jobs.
Winter Roads was cut from $615,332 to Buccina's figure of $458,250. That came despite voiced concern from Town Manager Carlo Puiia and Selectman Jolene Lovejoy that cutting too much from the budget means "putting a lot of people in danger."