RUMFORD – The Rumford and Mexico Boards of Selectmen unanimously voted Wednesday evening to schedule an executive session for 6 p.m. Monday, Feb. 2, to review the towns’ police contracts for additional savings to a proposed consolidated police budget.

Part of the motion made by Mexico Selectman Byron Ouellette stipulated that after the Rumford and Mexico selectmen agreed on a savings figure, they would choose two selectmen from each town to approach the Rumford and Mexico union, schedule a meeting, and discuss the figure.

For nearly two years, both towns have been discussing whether to consolidate services.

During a Nov. 24, 2014, meeting in Mexico, Oxford County Sheriff Wayne Gallant presented a two-year contract proposal for coverage of Rumford and Mexico.

Gallant said it would cost the towns more than $1.3 million for the first year and  $1.18 million the second year. The proposal would provide 12 deputies to cover both towns.

Following Gallant’s presentation, Rumford police Chief Stacy Carter and Mexico police Chief Roy Hodsdon presented a proposal to combine departments and work out of the Mexico police station, which is more spacious than Rumford’s station.

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In the first year, their $1,454,856 proposal would save Rumford $66,045, and Mexico $44,237. There would be 15 officers. Currently, Rumford has 12 and Mexico has five.

During a Jan. 7 joint meeting, the towns’ selectmen agreed to schedule a meeting with the police unions from each town on wages and benefits.

Some Mexico selectmen objected to Rumford’s wages for its police officers, saying Mexico taxpayers would not be able to afford them if the departments merge.

During Wednesday’s meeting between the selectmen and the union, little headway was made in finding additional savings.

Rumford Selectman Mark Belanger said he wanted to see if the Rumford and Mexico unions would be willing to consider renegotiating certain sections of their police contracts, including wages, benefits, health insurance and overtime.

Shortly after the meeting began, Selectman Albert Aniel made a motion to present three options before Rumford and Mexico voters at the June referendum: keep the Police Departments the way they are, present the Sheriff’s Department proposal, or present a $1.2 million budget for a 15-man consolidated department.

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“Personally, I think we’ve beaten this issue to death,” Aniel said. “I still think Mexico cannot afford to raise their wages to Rumford’s level, and that the savings of the chiefs’ proposal is too little to warrant merging departments. We could probably find $44,000 of savings by ourselves. Therefore, I think we should present these three options to the voters and let them decide for themselves.”

Aniel later said he was most concerned with the high level of overtime in the Rumford Police Department’s budget.

Belanger agreed, adding, “If you’re going to run a department like that over there, Mexico is going to get swamped.”

Rumford police Chief Stacy Carter said, “if you look solely at a page of numbers, you’re not getting the whole story.”

“The salaries you have in front of you are based on the 2014 calender year payroll,” he said. “During the first part of 2014, our staffing level was allotted 10 officers. On Jan. 31, an officer resigned and went to Mexico. On Feb. 25, an officer in the field training program resigned. That brought us to eight officers, because we were not able to fill those vacancies.”

“Yes, the overtime account was being billed, but there were no regular wages or benefits being billed for those two officers,” Carter said. “For 17 weeks, we had two vacancies, and even when we did fill them, they had to go through field training, so we were filling those shifts out of overtime. We had 42 weeks total of vacancy in 2014, and at the end of the year, on June 30, my overall budget was not exceeded. I actually turned money in.”

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Raising his voice, Carter said, “You shouldn’t be criticizing people for working the hours. They worked most of their days off. You should be commending them for the time they took away from their families and served this community. On paper, yes, I had $102,000 in overtime, but I didn’t pay out wages or benefits for those vacant positions.”

Belanger said he kept track of the budgets for the last five years and found the overtime budgets to be consistently high.

“I can go back each year and show you a vacancy that we were left with, whether it’s someone who left the position, or was gone due to an extended illness or injury,” Carter replied.

Rumford officer Brad Gallant, who was representing the Rumford union, asked Aniel where he got the $1.2 million figure.

Aniel said he tripled Mexico’s current police budget.

“I’m looking at a number that the town of Mexico can work with,” Aniel said.

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Rumford Selectman Jeff Sterling told Aniel, “Every time you speak, it’s in these broad generalizations. The chief’s proposal has concrete numbers. It’s not just speculation.”

Aniel said if voters approved the $1.2 million figure, selectmen could meet afterward and figure out where they could cut to reach the number.

Mexico police Lt. Dan Carrier, representing the Mexico union, told Aniel he could not just pick a number out of the air and put it before the voters.

“You need to know exactly what you’re talking about, and be able to show where that money is going,” Carrier said. “You need something to back that number up.”

“It’s not my duty to come up with those particular numbers,” Aniel said.

Sterling asked Aniel how he could “present a bottom-line number” to the voters.

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“The thing is, the voters wouldn’t know what they’re getting for that $1.2 million,” Sterling said.

Town Manager John Madigan said he would never present a budget to either Board of Selectmen without showing exactly where the money was coming from.

“I could go up to the Rumford board and say, ‘Hey guys, I was able to find some $66,000 worth of savings in the budget,’” Madigan said. “If I don’t explain where I got the savings, you guys are going to say, ‘Wow, what a great job! We should give you a raise.’”

The board laughed.

Madigan continued, saying, “The budget needs to show where the money is going and how those savings are being reached. I think the chiefs put together a proposal that helps provide the same level of services we’re currently getting. There is a substantial savings if you look at what would’ve happened if I proposed a budget individually to you. This is worth a try.”

After an hour and a half of discussion between the boards and the unions, Aniel’s motion was rejected, and Sterling presented another motion to approve the $1.45 million police budget proposed by the Rumford and Mexico police chiefs.

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Members of both police unions voiced their frustrations that neither board had come to the table with any solid figures to present as a suggestion, and the fact that neither board seemed familiar with either town’s current wages and benefits.

Rumford police Sgt. Tracey Higley said, “My suggestion is that you vote down Jeff’s motion, and you set up another meeting with the union, asking them to come back with some concessions in nonbinding discussion, and you can come back with educated, well-thought out ideas of where you see money being saved. After that, we can see if, as a group, we can work together for what’s best for everybody involved.”

Sterling’s motion was voted down, and Ouellette made a third motion for the Rumford and Mexico select boards to meet in an executive session to review the police contracts for both towns, agree on a savings figure, and send two board members from each town to the Rumford and Mexico police unions to discuss it.

The board unanimously approved Ouellette’s motion.

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