MEXICO — The Board of Selectmen unanimously voted Tuesday to wait until the end of November to decide whether to accept a $156,071 grant that would help fund the salary of a police officer for three years.

On Sept. 28, the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Community Oriented Policing Services awarded grants totaling $656,071 to four Maine police departments, including Mexico.

The grant was awarded through the COPS Hiring Program, which is designed to help bolster the hiring of local law enforcement agencies.

The grant money, according to a recent news release from U.S Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King, will provide 75 percent of the approved salary and benefits for entry-level officer positions over three years. The grant also asks the Mexico Police Department to keep the officer for a fourth year.

At the selectmen meeting, Town Manager John Madigan said that Lt. Roy Hodsdon “did all the paperwork” for the grant, and that the “local cash match” would be $52,024.

“When we first did this grant a few years ago, they funded it 100 percent, so we weren’t required to do a local match,” Madigan said to the board. “This one requires us to match $52,024, which comes out to about $17,000 each year for three years. After that, we’d keep the officer for an additional year.”

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He said the original grant from a few years ago would be used up in a month or two. “As soon as we used up the $180,000 from the first grant, we could start drawing from this new one.”

Madigan said the town has 90 days from Sept. 27 to accept the grant.

“That puts us toward the end of December, which means we don’t have to accept this right away,” Madigan said. “I’d like to run some more numbers and see what this would mean for us.”

Selectman Byron Ouellette said that if the town accepted another grant, it would be “tied up again.”

“With this grant, we’d have to pay back money if we ended up getting rid of a police officer,” Ouellette said. “Are we really going to tie ourselves up for another four years? We may be having our services shared with Rumford, depending on how this municipal-sharing study goes. I think we need to think really strongly about getting into another situation like this.”

Ouellette later said that having a fifth officer has been “a win-win situation” for the town, and that it helps the department run “so much better.”

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Selectman Reggie Arsenault said that if selectmen do not accept the grant, the department will go back to a four-man department.

“I hope you guys remember what happened a few years ago when we had four officers,” Arsenault said. “One of them got hurt and he was out for a long, long time. We ended up paying a lot of overtime and came close to our workmen’s comp and liability insurance coming down on us.

“I wouldn’t want to put our Police Department back in that situation again,” Arsenault said. “Our police officers will be running around looking like zombies, and if someone were to get hurt, we’d be paying out a lot more money than we would if we took this grant.”

Ouellette replied, “You’re just assuming a lot of this stuff, though.”

Police Chief Jim Theriault told Ouellette, “You’re asking us to save the town money. If you go with this grant, it will save the town money. I don’t know if it’ll be $1,000 or $3,000, but you will save money.”

Ouellette said, “Yes, but then we’ve eliminated the possibility of doing anything with the Police Department when it comes time to look at the budget.”

Selectman Peter Merrill said, “With the first grant, the money more than covered what our obligation was. I think we made money on that deal. If you’re looking at the additional $17,000 or $18,000 that we’d have to spend with the new grant, that’s peanuts when you compare it to the overtime we’d have to budget over a three-year period. To me, it’s a no-brainer.”

After discussion, Ouellette made a motion to have Madigan “crunch the numbers” and the board unanimously approved. The board could decide whether to accept the grant at its Nov. 26 meeting.

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