Bush Gives Local Police a Challenge
Small Maine town asks the federal government to help pay for extra police work during visits. THE KENNEBUNKPORT CRUNCH
SOME in this touristy coastal town are preparing for the 4th of July by hammering red-white-and-blue bunting on the sides of their dainty Victorian houses; others, by slapping on a quick coat of paint. The local police force, on the other hand, is stocking up on sleep. When President Bush comes to the town where he has summered for years, the tiny police force has to help provide security. Police Chief John Prescott beefs up what is normally a two-officer shift with six extras. That means reserves are called in, and lots of double shifts.
And more money. Chief Prescott figures it costs him $1,500 extra a shift to provide the manpower to guard the two checkpoints, direct traffic, and get Mr. Bush to the church on time. He says the federal government should chip in.
``We've been looking for federal help since the election,'' he says. ``Everyone's sympathetic, but we haven't seen any money yet. Maybe we should declare ourselves an independent nation and request foreign aid,'' he says jokingly.
Other law enforcement agencies are involved, too. The division of labor depends on what the Secret Service says the President's plans are. He has several airports in the area to choose from. The State Police provide motorcade support to and from the airports; the towns of Wells and Kennebunk give support when he is traveling through their towns. York County sheriffs help out, too. Then if he goes to church or shopping or visits friends, local police are always with him. When French President Mitterrand came to visit with Bush, 10 percent of the State Police force was involved.
``They try to be gracious hosts to the President, but at the same time we're talking about additional costs and putting the costs on the backs of county taxpayers, as well as state taxpayers,'' says Willis Lyford, press secretary to Gov. John R. McKernan Jr. ``It's a common-sense approach that we take up here: `Shoot, we're glad to have ya, but we have to pay the bills and need some help.'''
So far, that help has not been forthcoming. State Rep. Stedman Seavey asked the Legislature for a $500,000 fund that any of the state entities could tap into for adjustments they would need to make for the President. That included possible expansion of several airports and a hospital, as well as for things that happen when he's not here, like protest marches. But the Legislature felt that the state should not appropriate funds until all possibilities of federal funding had been exhausted.
Governor McKernan talked to the President and to Congress. Chief Prescott talked to the President, who was ``concerned,'' he said. But the word from the Justice Department is that it will take a special appropriation of Congress to come up with the money.
``We're only looking for $160,000 to divide up among the agencies,'' says Maine's public safety commissioner, John Atwood, who, along with other agencies, asked the state's congressional delegation to get that appropriation. ``And we're optimistic that such a requisition would be approved. We're confident that the federal government will pay for what should be a federal expense anyway.''
But this is a time when the federal government is shedding responsibility, shifting more to state and local governments. And budget woes leave Congress in no mood to take on more debt.
When San Clemente and Santa Barbara in California were faced with the same difficulty with former Presidents Nixon and Reagan, there were small federal block grants that took care of the additional expense, Mr. Atwood says. But the agency providing those grants is no longer authorized to do so. And the burden on California agencies is proportionally smaller than it is in Maine, he says.
``The town loves the man; they wouldn't have it any other way,'' says Representative Seavey. ``The three weeks in August will be a real interesting time, and a test of how much it will cost the town.''
So will the 4th of July. With gala fireworks promised by Bush, the 30,000 that often crowd the little town could turn into 50,000-100,000, according to Sgt. Gary Ronan.