Farmington Selectboard hear department updates, presentation on youth mental health

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FARMINGTON — Jason Labbe from the Healthy Community Coalition shared a brief presentation on youth mental health challenges in Farmington and Franklin County during the select board meeting on Tuesday, May 14.

The numbers for youth experiencing mental and behavioral health challenges have increased over the last several years. Figures from 2019, pre-COVID, showed ‘alarming’ trends in Franklin County, Labbe said. While statistics from 2020 and onwards aren’t available yet, there is good reason to believe the numbers are much worse.

The Healthy Community Coalition recently received a one-year grant from the United Way to develop youth programming that will work to support area youth before they reach a crisis. Partnering with the Maine branch of the National Alliance on Mental Illness and working with local schools, HCC aims to provide mental health resources and help foster connections and engagements to kids.

From substance use to chronic health conditions, untreated mental health illnesses can carry heavy implications for a person’s physical health. With increasing numbers of youth who report using e-cigarettes, alcohol, or other substances as a way to cope with the things they experience, the need for resources and options is increasing. Currently, there is no in-patient mental health care available for youth in the county, and limited options across the state; Franklin Memorial Hospital has housed youth in the emergency department for weeks at a time while waiting for beds to become available at an appropriate facility.

This grant funding is focused ‘upstream’ of the crisis, Labbe said, on reaching kids before they reach that point.

A task force is being assembled to work collaboratively with the HCC on these issues. This includes the behavioral health manager associated with Franklin Memorial Hospital and Farmington Police Chief Ken Charles, and Labbe invited others to join if they were interested.

Youth that feel like they matter have better health outcomes, Labbe said, and that’s where the community can play an important role.

In other business, a public hearing was held for Michael MacNeil, who applied for a marijuana manufacturing license. MacNeil currently holds a grower’s license and runs a growth operation, and applied for the manufacturing license so he will be able to package his product to sell wholesale. His plans to create a simple packaging room in his barn checked out with the state and with the fire and police departments, and following the public hearing the select board approved his license application.

Wastewater Superintendent Steve Millet shared a year-end review for 2021. The highlights included adjusting the pump system so if a pump lost connectivity to the rest of the system, the department would be immediately notified, allowing them to address the issue as quickly as possible. Millet also worked on developing an inventory of spare parts and equipment so in the event of a mechanical failure the department would be able to get things running again quickly.

Police Chief Charles shared a year-end review of his department as well. He was hired at the start of 2021, and subsequently hired two additional officers to the department. However, five officers left the department in the same time frame, and only one of the five retired from the department. The low pay scale compared to neighboring agencies was a concern and by collaborating with the select board, an increased compensation package was created in an effort to bolster officer retention. Two officers, Jesse Clements and Ethan Boyd, were promoted to sergeants in the department and have taken on additional roles as field training officers. Deputy Chief Shane Cote was recognized for 25 years with the department and Officer Ryan Rosie was recognized for 10 years. There are two new hires undergoing training and a third going through the hiring process; with three new officers potentially needing field training this summer, School Resource Officer Matthew Brann may be ‘borrowed’ to fill the role as a third field training officer.

The department still has two positions to fill, one for patrol and one for detective. In addition, with more officers joining the force, there is a need for more cruisers; one is being purchased this year, and rather than trading in the oldest cruiser like normal, it will remain in service to increase the number of cruisers.

Charles noted that the drug problem is increasing exponentially, even over the last four months. The department recently began working with OPTIONS liaison Katlynn Johnson to address some of these issues proactively.

As far as safety goes, the area that concerns Charles the most is the intersection of Route 27 and Route 2 in the area of Walgreens. While the speed limit is low there, they are seeing disproportionally high rates of vehicle crashes with serious personal injury.

Finally, the board approved the purchase of a 2022 John Deere zero turn lawn mower for the Parks and Recreation Department. This mower will allow the department to manage the parks more effectively, Director Matt Foster said.

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