Some people think the Augusta Police Department is too big. Others wonder why they never see a cop.

What’s a municipality to do?

Too often the answer is just to muddle through with what they’ve got, trimming or expanding the budget depending on how much money is available.

In Augusta’s case, the answer may be finding out how big a department is really needed based on national models and using that information to drive the budget process next spring.

The Augusta City Council has directed the city manager to hire an outside expert to evaluate the city’s police services and analyze its force’s size in comparison to similar communities around the country.

The proposed study by the International Association of Chiefs of Police is not cheap: It would cost $52,000, but it could be well worth the cost if it brings a rational basis to budget talks.

It is the kind of study that is not done enough in Maine, where so many services are provided at the local level, and so much analysis is done at budget time in an emotional atmosphere.

Suggest a budget cut and expect to see the school band members at the next public hearing or hear an emotional appeal from firefighters warning of the dire consequences that will come to pass with every attempt to save a few bucks.

How much does each town really need? It’s hard to say, but Augusta is going after this the right way. An example of this kind of rational budgeting was the Portland School Department’s outside audit of the city’s special education budget last year.

A group of experts found that there was inefficiency built into the system and recommended major changes. The School Committee cut $10 million from the special ed budget and replaced the top administrators.

While the report was disputed by some advocates within the system, it provided a rational framework for budget deliberations that served the School Committee well.

If they go through with their plan, the Augusta councilors won’t be ceding authority to an outside group, but simply getting all the information they can to make a good decision.

Which, after all, is what every municipality is supposed to be doing. So you have to wonder why more of them don’t.