By Alex Lippa
---- — ATKINSON — For the first time in decades, the town could have a full-time police chief.
Selectmen voted Monday to include money in next year’s budget to turn the police chief’s position from part-time to full-time.
“The police chief in Atkinson has historically been a part-time job,” Town Administrator Bill Innes said. “We had two reports done by consultants who recommended to us that this was the way to go.”
Sgt. Patrick Caggiano has served as acting police chief since Phil Consentino was fired in February. Consentino worked 25 hours a week as police chief and was also the town’s volunteer elderly affairs director. He had been chief for 35 years and was paid less than $30,000 a year.
“We want the individual who is the next chief to focus more on police,” Innes said.
Selectman Bill Friel said it was the best decision for the town moving forward.
“My goal is to provide the residents of the town of Atkinson with the best police practices, proper risk management, and a safe and secure environment,” Friel said.
Innes said a search to fill the position will begin next year. His hope is to have a permanent chief shortly after Town Meeting in March. He said Caggiano would be considered in the search if he applies for the chief’s job.
Caggiano could not be reached for comment.
Since Consentino was fired, the $32,000 budgeted for police chief’s position has not been spent.
“It’s going to be part of the money we use to offset some of the over expenditures in our budget,” Innes said.
Innes said they have overspent on 40 budget lines for a total of $73,000.
The police chief’s salary has not been determined.
“We are going to look at what the average salaries for similar police chiefs are and then make that decision,” Innes said.
There are six full-time officers and 12 part-time officers in the department.
“We’re at the point where the police department is growing larger, so we believe this is something that the town is ready for,” Innes said.
He said they wanted to move away from the police chief doing strictly administrative duties.
“It’s going to be an active and working chief,” Innes said. “We want them on patrol.”
The move to a full-time chief will not be a warrant article, but rather the full-time salary will be included in the budget voters will be asked to approve at Town Meeting.
“It is within the selectmen’s rights to make that decision,” Innes said. “The budget just has to be approved by the voters at Town Meeting.”