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Topsham selectmen back grant for 2 police jobs

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Topsham selectmen back grant for 2 police jobs

TOPSHAM — The Board of Selectmen voted unanimously April 2 to authorize Town Manager Jim Ashe and Police Chief Tim Young to apply for a federal grant that would fund two new police officer positions.

An article on next month's Town Meeting warrant will ask residents whether they support the grant.

Young said the federal Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) office has $1 billion in funds as part of the stimulus package in order to hire officers.

The grant pays for 100 percent of entry-level salary and benefits for a police officer for three years. At the end of that 36-month period, the community must fund the grant for an additional minimum of 12 months.

The first year's salary and benefits is nearly $61,000. Young said the grant allows the community to increase that amount based on projected salary increases over the course of three years.

In total, the federal government would foot the bill for about $190,000 to pay for three years of salary and benefits for each new officer.

"I've talked for several years about staffing, the need for additional officers, where we stand compared to other towns our size as to the number of officers that we have," Young said, "and I understand why we haven't moved forward – budget concerns over the years, etc., etc. – but I look at this as an incredible opportunity to get a jump start on increasing the size of the department and have the federal government pay for it for three years."

Young said he has to apply for the grant by April 14.

"This is new money out of the stimulus, but the COPS office has been around for many years," Selectman Steve Edmondson said. "We actually have hired some of our officers years ago under this program."

Young pointed out, though, that "this is the first time that I can recall that they're paying 100 percent over three years. ... This is a very good one."

If Town Meeting voters next month reject the extra year of funding the officers, and therefore reject the grant, the town is not obligated to accept the grant if it is awarded it, Young said. And if the town is awarded money for two officers, but residents by then have decided they want only one, Topsham is not obligated for two, the chief added.

"Although I understand the trepidation some may have that by accepting this grant now, we're obliging the town and then the selectmen three years from now to absorb a significant amount of money to put into their budget," Edmondson noted, "I do so willingly, just anticipating that the economy will turn around and things will be better three years from now."

Selectman Jim Trusiani also expressed his support, saying that "this allows us to move in the proper direction that that department should be in, to provide a level of service to this community for the first line of emergency services in this town. I think we'd be not the brightest people to say no to this opportunity."

He pointed out that the town has three years to creatively plan ways to fund the new officers if it accepts and receives the grant.

Alex Lear can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net.