Wiscasset officials talk cruiser, SRO rejections

Thu, 06/17/2021 - 8:45am

Wiscasset Police Chief Larry Hesseltine said the department’s budget passed more easily June 8 than it has since he has been chief, even with an additional officer in it due to a rise in calls and arrests. So he didn’t know why voters turned down other ballot requests to continue the school resource officer (SRO) for $51,402 and buy a new cruiser for $55,000 to help gradually replace ones long on miles. He was “disappointed and frustrated at the same time,” he said in a phone interview June 16.

Hesseltine described what the two losses will mean and shared a theory: He said publicity was low and he has heard from residents who did not vote because they were not aware.

The two items were the only “no” outcomes of the annual town meeting’s dozens of budget items and other proposals. Now Hesseltine said the department will have to get by with its main cruiser with 190,000 miles on it, the secondary one with 120,000 miles; and the one bought last year “that is going to be set up in the next couple of months, hopefully,” he said.

“They’re both going to be running into some mechanical issues,” he said of the first two. “I was looking for that second new vehicle to replace that one with 190,000 miles on it, because we definitely have seen the need ... I’ve responded to calls in my personal vehicle. Some of my guys have responded backup in their personal vehicles ... When we have a vehicle in the shop, we need another vehicle.”

Using an unmarked, personal car raises liability issues and could add to the chance a passing car could strike an officer, Hesseltine explained. He plans to ask again for a cruiser in 2022.

The SRO question’s defeat also surprised him. He said having an SRO helps protect children and helps foster a good relationship with them. “I’ve seen the positive impact. I’ve seen cases that probably would not have come forward if there wasn’t an SRO. And as a police officer when you walk into a school and you see the fear in the kids’ eyes because of your presence, and then a couple of weeks later, those same kids, you see their eyes light up because they see you walking in ... you’ve built that rapport with them and that makes all the difference in the world.”

Asked via email June 16 for comment on the SRO question’s defeat, Superintendent of Schools Terry Wood said: “I believe that the voters are probably not aware of the responsibilities of this position.” She noted the school budget included a $10,000 contribution toward the SRO job. 

That $10,000 wasn’t figured into the SRO ballot item that lost, Town Manager Dennis Simmons said in a phone interview June 17. So if selectmen want, they could offer voters the question again, minus $10,000, he said. Simmons added, the job still has funding through the end of September, thanks to voters’ agreeing to fund losing budgets at up to three months of last year’s budget for that cost center.

Hesseltine said due to the additional officer in this year’s budget, the SRO rejection will not force him to lay anyone off.

The SRO question ran 198 yes, 202 no; the new cruiser question, 197-205.