RUMFORD — Selectmen tabled a decision Thursday night to authorize police Chief Stacy Carter to apply for an estimated $200,000 federal grant that would pay three years of salary and benefits for a police officer.
The town would pick up the fourth year.
The board took the advice of resident Kevin Saisi, deciding instead to seek a legal opinion from town lawyer Thomas Carey before taking action.
Saisi read a section of the Rumford Charter, which allows the board to pursue grants.
However, the terms of the Community Oriented Policing Services grant from the U.S. Department of Justice would obligate the town to maintain staffing at a certain level for four years.
Saisi said the Charter doesn’t allow the board to obligate the town beyond the next town meeting.
In introducing the grant, Carter said it would allow him to either hire a full-time officer or rehire an officer who has been laid off.
Should he get the grant, Carter said he would hire a new officer, whose salary and benefits of approximately $65,000 would be paid by the federal government for the first three years.
He would use the officer as a utility officer to replace overtime.
“If those savings were carried forward, there would be ample money to pay for the fourth year,” he said, so there would be no cost to taxpayers.
When that officer is not filling overtime positions, he would be used as a patrol officer on the street and to help with special details.
“I’m not going to be looking to ask for $65,000 or anywhere near that in the fourth year, because we’re going to have savings in the first three years,” he said.
Carter said the grant would allow the department to have a fully trained officer if by chance it loses officers.
He said the grant would be “a very good opportunity to get the additional officer and reduce the budget.”
Selectman Mark Belanger worried aloud that the grant would lock the town into having a 12-person police force instead of enabling reductions in personnel should voters opt to decrease the police budget.
“I don’t see where this would hurt us, because this would still be money coming in that would support an officer even if we decide to downsize,” Selectman Greg Buccina said, referring to future budget recommendations.
“You wouldn’t be able to reduce without a hardship waiver,” Belanger said. “That’s the thing. Our hands are tied….You’re locked into this grant unless there’s a hardship.”
Selectmen Jeremy Volkernick and Jeff Sterling agreed with Buccina, believing it an opportunity worth pursuing.
After more discussion, Buccina said new development will be coming to Rumford that will require maintaining the current level of police service.
The department has 11 officers, one of whom is away on military duty.