Searsport debates police funding at annual town meeting
Searsport — Around 100 residents of Searsport gathered at Searsport District High School and voted against a motion to reduce their police department by one full-time officer at the annual town meeting March 8.
The voters were considering a request for $250,749 to fund the Police Department for the coming fiscal year, which appeared under Article 4 in the town warrant. Last month a full-time officer left to take a position as school resource officer in Bucksport. This left a vacancy in the department that the Board of Selectmen voted to fill at its regular meeting March 4.
Searsport Resident Harlan McLaughlin made a motion to reduce the police budget to $200,749, eliminating the position that was recently vacated.
"Like my neighbors I'm struggling to pay my taxes," McLaughlin said. "With the uncertainty with the state and school budgets we need to take control of our local spending."
Several other Searsport residents spoke in favor of fully funding the police department and praised the work of Police Chief Dick LaHaye.
Charlene Farris, a retired teacher from Searsport, and Megan Lowe, a parent from Searsport, both praised the work LaHaye did with the schools, and said having the department gives them peace of mind.
Don Garrold, who manages Mosman Park, spoke at both the town meeting and at the selectmen meeting March 4 to praise the work of the police department in cleaning up the park. He pointed to the low response time that Searsport enjoys because of the department.
"The hooliganism and drugs [in the park] have been reduced due to the work of the police department and the chief," Garrold said. "Freedom and safety have a cost and we all have to share in those costs."
A.J. Koch, a Searsport firefighter, referenced the number of calls the department responded to as evidence that it should be fully funded. The department answered more than 2,000 calls last year. Sending additional calls to the Waldo County Sheriff and the Maine State Police would burden those organizations as well, said Koch.
Selectman Meredith Ares spoke at the meeting saying while she respects LaHaye and values the police department, it is not "disrespectful" to ask them to cut back.
The other selectmen weighed in on the police budget at their March 4 meeting, all voicing their support for a fully funded department.
McLaughlin clarified that he did not want to eliminate the police department in its entirety, just to reduce it by one position; however, the voters defeated the motion and voted to fund the police department at the requested $250,749.
The remaining budget items in Article 4 of the town warrant all passed as recommended by the selectmen with little discussion. Several items for community support generated some discussion.
Voters decided to spend $2,400 in support of the Searsport Historical Society for restoration and maintenance of the Crary/Carlin/Coleman house, $200 more than recommended by the selectman. A representative from the historical society spoke and explained the group was doing what it could to keep costs down, but were facing increases in their telephone bills.
A motion to reduce the amount of funding for Searsport Beautification to $0 was defeated. Members of that group explained that they had gotten by in the past entirely through fundraising, but that was no longer possible. Voters approved spending the recommended $500 for the group.
The voters decided not to authorize the Board of Selectmen to appropriate any money from surplus to help lower their tax bill. Selectmen recommended using $20,000 in surplus, whereas the Budget Advisory Committee recommended taking no money from surplus.
The voters approved several ordinance changes. The town accepted changes to the Adult Entertainment Establishment, Holding Tank and Shellfish Conservation ordinances. The only discussion was regarding the holding tank ordinance, where it was clarified that without such an ordinance no holding tanks would be permitted in the shoreland zone.
The meeting lasted from 9 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. and lunch was provided by Angler's Restaurant, which traditionally donates chowder to help benefit the Historical Society.