DOVER-FOXCROFT, Maine — Piscataquis County Sheriff John Goggin was asked Thursday to reduce his proposed 2011 budget by $110,269 to reflect a zero increase or risk cuts to be recommended by the Piscataquis County Budget Advisory Committee.
The committee, which is reviewing the department head requests, intends to recommend a flat budget to the Piscataquis County commissioners. That task will require a reduction of about $550,000 — the approximately $200,000 increase in the proposed budget and the loss of $341,000 in surplus used last year to offset the tax commitment.
Over the years, the county has relied on revenue from the boarding of federal prisoners to offset taxes, but that is no longer allowed under the new state jail consolidation law.
“The people in this county, we have 17,000 people, and they can only pay so much and they’re there,” budget committee member Jerry Brown of Milo said Thursday. “I cannot go back and face my people asking them to sacrifice and come up here and not ask somebody else to sacrifice.”
Brown referred to Goggin’s request for two new police cruisers, a patrol officer to fill a vacant position that was funded this year, an additional full-time patrol officer, the purchase of six Tasers, a 4 percent raise for himself, and raises for his full- and part-time employees.
“If we come back with a flat budget, are you going to ask every department to do the same thing and is every town going to do the same thing?” Goggin asked. “What’s fair for one should be fair for all.”
County Manager Marilyn Tourtelotte noted that some departments have asked for less, including the commissioners, who eliminated a position, and the county treasurer.
Budget Committee member John Tatko of Willimantic, who suggested cuts be made in health insurance costs, was told those costs are part of union negotiations. The county pays 100 percent health insurance for a single subscriber and 60 percent for family coverage.
Tatko and Tom Carone of Sangerville defended the sheriff’s department’s budget, saying they understood its value and service to their communities.
Carone said Sangerville town officials had to wait 45 minutes for a state trooper to respond to a firearm incident because the cellular call was routed to state police instead of the sheriff’s department. “I’d hate to lose the service from the sheriff’s department,” he said, but added he also recognized that cuts are needed.
“I don’t want my taxes going up no more than anybody else wants their taxes to go up,” Goggin said, “but on the other hand, as a civil servant for almost 40 years now, I know there’s a certain level of services that the citizens of this county … want, deserve and expect.”
Committee member Terry Knowles of Brownville said that maybe it’s time to reduce services because they are unaffordable.
Goggin said he was unwilling to go without the vacant patrol position being filled, a cruiser and at least three Tasers, but he suggested no other changes. He wondered aloud why the commissioners wouldn’t fill the vacant position, which has resulted in costly overtime, yet they added other new positions elsewhere over the years.
“It’s like everybody else is not being treated the same and I’m asking, ‘Why, why aren’t we being treated the same as everybody else in county government?’” he asked. He warned that if services are affected by budget cuts, the county officials would hear about it from county residents.
The committee on Thursday also reviewed the budgets for telecommunications and the district attorney, the latter of which includes funds to fill a vacant position.
District Attorney R. Chris Almy told the committee that the vacant position is being filled by volunteers, a less than ideal situation. “For a government to operate that way, especially in the area of law enforcement when you’re talking about security, intelligence and delicate matters, I really think that’s not an appropriate way to run a government,” he said.
Almy said that if his office does not meet statutory and rule obligations in a timely fashion, it risks having cases thrown out. “I’m not about to have that happen,” he said.
Budget deliberations will continue on Wednesday, Nov. 10.