By Diana Bowley of the BDN Staff: DEXTER, Maine — A packed house of supporters Thursday failed to sway some Town Council members to continue to fund the secretary-dispatcher position in the Police Department.
Those residents in attendance said the position, which was cut during the budget process, was a matter of public safety.
"I think this is a major, major mistake," said resident Mark Stephens. He said Christine Pooler, who holds the position, was "worth her weight in gold." Stephens said he wanted the police officers out on the streets fighting crime not in the office doing paperwork and answering telephone calls that Pooler routinely handled.
The budget that was adopted 4-3 Thursday had no funds for the position. Although those in the audience supported keeping the position, council members Steve Gudroe and Roger Brawn said they had heard from many residents who supported the reduced budget.
That net budget of $3,272,557 will require an increase of $13,169 from taxation because of less revenue.
"We basically kept a pretty low budget," Town Manager Dave Pearson said Thursday. He said that by being frugal, the departments and the council have kept the budgets low for the past three years.
"It looks like there's no reason to raise the mill rate," Pearson said. As such, the council voted not to exceed the current mill rate of $14.50 per $1,000 property valuation.
Pearson's comment that about $300,000 not used in 2009 will lapse into the surplus account prompted council member Judy Craig to beg fellow members to restore Pooler's position.
"Please reconsider, it's just for one year," Craig pleaded, noting that Pooler had only a year and a half remaining before she could retire.
Zack Matthews, who represents the union in which Pooler is a member, said Pooler had given the town "15 years of hard, dedicated service." He said other communities that have unions have allowed union members to come up with some ideas to save positions, but that did not occur in Dexter. Those ideas in other areas have included giving up pay raises or benefits, he said.
Some municipal employees had been willing to give up their raises, including Dexter Police Chief Jim Emerson, to keep Pooler on staff, Craig noted.
Emerson said his department really would feel the loss of Pooler and the officers would find themselves filling out more mandatory paperwork rather than patrolling the streets. He said the department received 1,493 serious calls this year, not including the calls seeking information, directions or other less serious concerns.
The loss of Pooler's position also will mean the office will be closed when the on-call officer is on the road, Emerson said. Calls to the Police Department will be answered by a machine in the future, he said. He said he had invited the council members to visit the office to see what role Pooler played in the department, but no one came.
Dave Clukey, a current council member and the former police chief who hired Pooler, said Pooler's elimination will set the Police Department back 15 years. He said Pooler had arrest powers and did a variety of jobs within the department.
Clukey, Craig and council member Andre Robichaud voted to keep Pooler's position.
Gudroe, who voted to adopt the budget as presented, reminded the audience that the town had filed 195 tax liens last year and that some residents were living on the edge. He said town officials needed to look out for and protect those people as well as others who are living on fixed incomes.
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