April 6, 2012

Obama visits, cities foot the bill

Extra police staffing cost South Portland $8,000 and Portland nearly $21,000 for overtime.

By David Hench dhench@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

President Obama's campaign stop through Portland and South Portland last week drew thousands of enthusiastic supporters, but it also cost local police departments thousands of dollars for overtime.

Obama expense

Was the $28,000 expense for local law enforcement money well spent for last week’s visit by President Obama?

Yes

No

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click image to enlarge

Portland police officers secure Spring Street while President Obama visits the Portland Museum of Art last Friday evening. Even though it was a fundraising trip, cities have to pay for extra police staffing.

Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Portland spent $20,885 in overtime associated with the president's visit. South Portland spent about $8,000 in overtime, but still had to solicit help from neighboring departments because it did not have enough officers to staff each post.

"For us, it's a pretty rare occurrence and we're honored to have the president visit us," said Assistant Portland Police Chief Vern Malloch.

South Portland Police Chief Ed Googins said hosting the president is an honor, but the $8,000 in overtime will be felt in the budget. The department is already paying overtime to cover shifts for three officers who have recently retired and one that resigned, he said.

"It does have an impact, but obviously when we develop our budget we have to anticipate there are going to be extraordinary circumstances that come up throughout the year, whether it be bad weather or a presidential visit or some other drain on our resources," Googins said. He expects to be slightly over the $200,000 police overtime budget this year, but will cover that with savings in other areas, he said.

Some police overtime costs, such as those incurred to have a certain number of police officers on duty at the Portland International Jetport at all times, are reimbursed by the federal Department of Homeland Security. But that is not the case when dignitaries come to town.

And even though Obama's visit was a campaign fundraising event, the campaign does not cover the department's overtime costs.

Steven Scharf, a taxpayer advocate in Portland, said his concern over the lack of reimbursement is bipartisan.

"It happens to be we have a Democratic president at the moment. He's the guy who came to town," Scharf said. "It could just as easily have been a Republican president coming to town and the cost would have been the same.

"The issue is the federal government's lack of reimbursement to local government when a major political figure comes through and causes major disruptions. It is now on the Portland taxpayer," he said. If it is a campaign visit, then the campaign should pay the overtime, he said.

Ron Schmidt, an associate professor of political science at the University of Southern Maine, said Mainers might want to prepare for other costly disruptions during the presidential campaign.

"Most of what I'm seeing in the polling numbers suggests this is going to be a tight race, especially when there's a U.S. Senate seat in play, which means Maine is going to be on the national agenda more than usual," Schmidt said.

"That may be a pain" and cost towns money, but it also means issues important to Maine are likely to get more attention, Schmidt said. "I think, generally speaking, we come out ahead," he said.

Obama arrived at the jetport shortly after 4 p.m. Friday and was driven through Portland to a campaign event at Southern Maine Community College in South Portland. He then attended a high-end fundraiser at the Portland Museum of Art before leaving at 8 p.m.

Preparing for the four-hour visit was time-consuming, Malloch said. Capt. Ted Ross, head of the patrol division, spent the entire week before the visit coordinating the city's response and its interaction with local, state and county law enforcement, the Secret Service, the fire department and emergency medical services, Malloch said.

The city also incurred overtime for security when the president visited in 2010, though it was less because the president spent less time in the city. The city's overtime budget this year is $423,000 and it is on track to meet that target.

(Continued on page 2)

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Obama expense

Was the $28,000 expense for local law enforcement money well spent for last week’s visit by President Obama?

Yes

No

View Results