2016-04-22 / Front Page

Chiefs cite need for expanded forces

Emergency call volumes continue the upward trend of recent years
By Michael Kelley Staff Writer

With crimes getting more and more complicated to investigate and deal with and call volumes sky rocketing, Scarborough Police Chief Robbie Moulton told members of the town’s finance committee last week that this is the year to invest in more officers.

“We have asked for more people for many years. I get the economy has been what it has been and the budget has been what it’s been, but I have to tell you, we are struggling to keep our head above water,” Moulton said last Wednesday as the finance committee reviewed the public safety budget. “It doesn’t show as much as it could because we are still able to answer calls and be at emergencies. What we are lacking is the proactive work we could be doing.”

Some of that work, he added, includes going into schools to connect with younger students about topics like Halloween safety and bike safety. Moulton is hopeful he can find a way to use existing resources to “connect with those kids” before negative influences can.

Last year Moulton unsuccessfully asked for funding to hire a school resource officer at Wentworth School to help in that regard. He is not requesting the position this year, instead opting for two new patrol officers. This would help the department better meet the call volume, which has increased 62 percent in the last decade.

The two officers, which would cost $149,088 in wages and benefits, would be used for traffic enforcement and patrol work as needed, as well as being used to build relationships with students in the primary schools.

Staffing is also a concern for Fire Chief B. Michael Thurlow, who is asking for two additional firefighters and 63 hours of additional per-diem coverage. Like with the police department, the fire department is seeing increased calls for service for both fire and medical emergencies. In 2015, the department fielded 1,832 fire calls for service, 2,359 emergency medical service calls and worked on 3,192 inspections and permits. Finance committee members will review the proposed staffing requests of all town departments on Wednesday, May 11 during their final review of the municipal and school budgets.

The 63 additional per-diem coverage, a cost of $61,081, has been included in Town Manager Tom Hall’s proposed budget, but the two firefighters and patrol officers have not. Thurlow said the extra per-diem hours will help the fire department staff morning and evening commutes. A need for enhanced coverage at this time was highlighted last November when a 15-year-old Scarborough High School student had an unexpected cardiac arrest. Two of the department’s student firefighters quickly responded, used an AED and saved the boy’s life.

Thurlow made a similar request last year and the council decided to fund two new police officers and 94 hours of per-diem coverage, but because the hiring was delayed until April 1 and the per-diem coverage until June 30, the last day of the current fiscal year, the brunt of the cost of that decision will be picked up in fiscal year 2017.

Because of this decision, Thurlow’s proposed $4.6 million operating budget (a 9.3 percent increase) includes a $399,004 increase in wages and benefits. The fire department’s services and charges budget, Thurlow said, is projected to increase by $28,700, mainly due to increased cost for parts and maintenance for the fleet. The public safety’s supply cost, which includes fuel and utilities, is expected to be down close to $40,000 due to savings derived from the town’s tri-generation facility next to town hall. The system, which went live late last year, is designed to handle the heating, cooling and electricity needs of town hall, and Central Maine Power allows the town up to 10 beneficiary accounts to reduce energy cost if the tri-generation facility produces more energy than needed.

“They are the first beneficiary account and will see the greatest savings,” Hall said of public safety.

The fire department’s revenue streams are up slightly to cover the increase in operating costs. Thurlow projects an additional $52,000 in emergency medical services billing, $10,000 in increased inspection and permitting fees, and $6,000 in additional income from the house the town owns and rents next to the North Scarborough station.

Spending for the police department is up as well, going from $5.8 million this year to a proposed $6.2 million. The increase, like with the fire department and other municipal departments, is largely due to increased staffing costs and is driven by enhanced parking enforcement and coverage at Higgins Beach.

Aside from a staffing boost, the public safety department is hoping to get several capital improvement projects and equipment purchases funded. Moulton is looking to continue the update of the police department’s Taser supply by purchasing six new units. He is also looking to purchase a $26,600 TruNarc Narcotics Identification system and $19,200 for new light bars for the department’s eight marked cruisers.

The narcotics identification system, Moulton said, will provide a safer way for officers to examine and identify drugs they find on suspects. The system gives them the ability to identify drugs via lasers and not have to open up the bags of drugs and risk contamination.

Thurlow is hoping to fund several equipment purchases through the capital budget, including replacing the chassis of the oldest ambulance in the fleet, as well as replace the ATV the department shares with the Community Services Department. The ATV, purchased in 2009, has helped the department tend to emergencies on the beach and helped community services with trash pickup and beach maintenance. The department has unsuccessfully tried to fund the $24,000 cost through grants the past two years.

Other equipment needed for the fire department includes a new power stretcher for one of the ambulances. The current stretchers, Thurlow said, are beyond their useful life and the new stretcher includes technology that makes getting individuals in and out of the vehicle much easier and replacement of staff vehicles after 12 years of service.

The fire department will also be looking to install a new 15,000-gallon underground water storage holding tank in the Glendale Drive neighborhood. The tanks are generally funded by developers, but the fire department has been installing them in areas of town where development growth is not expected, but where one is needed.

There are 70 holding tanks in place.

“The first one went in in 1987 and is still going strong,” said Deputy Fire Chief Glenn Deering.

The capital projects will be financed through a variety of methods, including through bond proceeds, capital reserve money as well as appropriation in the fiscal 2017 budget.

“Throughout the whole CIP budget, we’ve been more mindful than ever regarding financing and how we are paying for things,” Hall said.

Staff Writer Michael Kelley can be reached at news@scarboroughleader.com.

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