RUMFORD — Depending on the whim of town meeting voters considering budget recommendations this summer, the Police Department could again be forced to reduce its services to the public.
Should cuts go beyond the current budget of $803,430, it could also become less efficient and lead to a crime spike, Chief Stacy Carter warned selectmen at Thursday's budget hearing.
To retain the current level of services, he proposed a budget of $836,670. It's an increase of $33,240, of which about $10,000 is for wages for an extra week in the year and $4,000 is for fuel at $4 a gallon.
The remaining $19,240 covers requested wage increases that were approved for the past two years but not funded.
At town meeting elections last year, a majority of voters OK'd the Finance Committee recommendation of $803,430, which was about $14,000 less than the department's request of $817,332 that selectmen recommended.
“If somebody — whether it be the select board or the Finance Board — puts on a lower amount, in the past, citizens have voted the lower amount irregardless of how it affects the level of services, because it's my understanding that they don't get the information and don't realize that's going to decrease the level of services,” Carter said.
“To flat-fund the budget to last year's figures means there are things that we will need to look at.”
They include no longer providing a school crossing guard on Lincoln Avenue at the four-corner intersection, further reducing dispatching hours and potentially not keeping the station open to the public during weekdays, and cutting reserve officer and training accounts.
“And what that tells us is I lose the ability to train additional officers or additional reserves in order to reduce the budget if it's flat-funded,” Carter said.
“What I'm strictly against is reducing patrol personnel. We only have two people out there at all times. It would be unfathomable to consider going to one person and expect that we can safely do the job and provide a safe community for the citizens.”
If cuts go significantly deeper than $803,000, that means paring a detective's job or something similar, he said.
“That means the major crimes don't get solved and that puts more work on patrol officers, and our level of service is we're basically a defunct police department that's struggling to handle calls,” Carter said.
Currently, the call volume is 4,300, which is consistent with other years. It's not going down, he said.
“The criminal investigation division, they're tasked with the felony crimes, the drug work — the stuff that we consider very serious — and when that doesn't get done, then the crime rate spirals and we're not doing it justice,” Carter said.
Detective Capt. Daniel Garbarini, who joined Carter for the budget presentation, agreed.
He said that if police are stuck in the office doing paperwork due to a reduction in personnel, people intent on committing crimes will do so more readily, especially if they see cruisers parked at the station more than on the road patrolling.
“Law enforcement is very much about visibility,” Garbarini said.