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Action tabled on cop grant application
RUMFORD -- Requesting an opinion of the town solicitor, the Board of Selectmen Thursday tabled an action that would authorize Police Chief Stacy Carter to apply for an estimated $200,000 federal grant that would pay three years of salary and benefits for a police officer, with the town picking up the fourth year.
The unanimous vote was made following the advice of resident Kevin Saisi, who read a section of the Rumford Charter, which allows the board to pursue grants. The concern is that the Board of Selectmen can't tie the hands of a subsequent board on a budget item. While the terms of the Community Oriented Policing Services grant from the U.S. Department of Justice would obligate the town to maintain staffing at a certain level for four years, the Charter doesn't allow the board to obligate the town beyond the next town meeting.
Carter said the grant would allow him to either hire a full-time officer or rehire an officer who has been laid off. With the grant, Carter said he would hire a new officer, whose salary and benefits of approximately $65,000 would be paid by the federal government for the first three years. He would use the officer as a utility officer to replace overtime.
“If those savings were carried forward, there would be ample money to pay for the fourth year,” he said, so there would be no cost to taxpayers.
Carter said the force lost two officers two years ago. "This is a very good opoortunity to get an additional officer out there and have that cost covered."
When that officer is not filling overtime positions, he would be used as a patrol officer on the street and to help with special details.
“I'm not going to be looking to ask for $65,000 or anywhere near that in the fourth year, because we're going to have savings in the first three years,” said Carter.
He said the grant would allow the department to have a fully trained officer if by chance it loses officers.
Carter said the grant would be “a very good opportunity to get the additional officer and reduce the budget.”
Selectman Mark Belanger said the grant would lock the town into having a 12-person police force instead of enabling reductions in personnel should voters decide to decrease the police budget. The department presently has 11 officers, one of whom is away on military duty.
Carter said that under the terms of the grant, reduction of the police force during the four years would be contingent asking for a waiver from the Department of Justice.
“I don't see where this would hurt us, because this would still be money coming in that would support an officer even if we decide to downsize,” Selectman Greg Buccina said, referring to future budget recommendations.
Belanger said, "You'd have to have permission from Department of Justice to reduce staff. That should be done our terms, not theirs."
Selectmen Jeremy Volkernick and Jeff Sterling agreed with Buccina, believing it an opportunity worth pursuing.
However, Sterling noted, "I'm concerned about locking the board of the future into this if we're not able to maintain the level of service."
After more discussion, Buccina said new development will be coming to Rumford that will require maintaining the current level of police service.
Deadline to apply for the grant is May 25.
In other business, Town Manager Carlo Puiia said that corrective actions are underway to protect Rumford from unlicensed auditors doing the town's books.
That issue arose recently when it was alleged that Harold Blake, the man who has been auditing Rumford's books for the past two decades, may not have been properly licensed to do some of that work.
Rather than have selectmen address the issue, Puiia, who didn't mention Blake by name, recommended tabling discussion on the agenda item. He was concerned about possible litigation.
In the meantime, Puiia said he has been in touch with the state auditor and the Board of Accountancy, the auditing firm for the town this year and the town's solicitor.
"We're taking corrective action to make sure that the town is protected. One of those things is that I've started to create a new policy for the town, and that would guide the Finance Committee with the assistance of the town manager's office, because it is the Finance Committee that nominates and votes to select the town's auditing firm," he said.
They would also collect the necessary documentation such as a copy of the firm's license and a copy of the peer review letters. "I've already drafted the annual letter of notification for the state auditor of that appointment."
Puiia said there would also be a request of confirmation of receipt of a letter of that appointment, confirming that the state auditor's office received that. There would also be a request of a confirmation of receipt and acceptance of the town auditor by the state auditor.
"This is some of the things we're trying to put in place. There may be more. I will reiterate this.
Selectmen voted to table the item, with a proposal hopefully ready for the May 19 selectmen's meeting.
The accountancy firm license held by Blake of Hallowell, who owned Harold E. Blake Accounting Services, was revoked in 2009 by order of the Maine Board of Accountancy, in a two-vote move suspending that license back in November 2003.
Blake has continued to present himself to his clients as fully licensed to audit their accounts.
The company's license revocation stems from a poor peer review of accounting practices in 2002. In 2008, when Blake applied to the Board of Accountancy to renew his company's license, the review board discovered that Blake never provided required documentation that he had completed a successful peer review following the poor performance reported in 2002, which was required in his 2003 renewal application and all subsequent applications.
Between 2007 and 2009, Blake was warned by letter at least three times by the New England Peer Review Program to provide the required documentation and did not comply.
In a 2009 order of the state licensure board, Blake's applications of 2003 and 2008 to renew his firm's license were denied.
That decision also noted that in February 2008, Blake's failure to comply with the paperwork requirement prompted the New England Peer Review Program to report his refusal to the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, which requires a successful peer review for membership.
Blake acknowledges that his firm's license was revoked in 2009, but he's relying on state law in Title 30-A that allows any “qualified public accountant” to perform a municipal audit.
He also disputes the 2009 finding of the Board of Accountancy and insists he's not breaking the law.