DOVER-FOXCROFT, Maine — Piscataquis County Sheriff John Goggin was caught by surprise Thursday night when he learned at a public meeting that county commissioners had reduced his salary by $9,710 in last-minute budget deliberations. He threatened to sue the county.
Goggin’s salary, reduced from $58,710 to $49,000, was the only salary commissioners reduced in the proposed 2011 budget. By law, the commissioners set the salaries of elected officials.
“We’re proposing a cut in the sheriff’s salary to align his pay to the level of his performance,” Commissioner Tom Lizotte told the Piscataquis Budget Advisory Committee, which conducted its last review of the spending plan on Thursday.
Goggin called the cut a “vindictive” measure because he hasn’t agreed with the commissioners’ philosophy. They have hired people for new positions, yet they tell the committee the county is so poor that drastic cuts have to be made, he said.
“If you recommend this line item, this will go into effect one way or another, and if it does, I will get my own attorney and I will sue the county of Piscataquis and it will cost the taxpayers of this county a heck of a lot more than the $9,700 that they are willing to forgo,” Goggin said at the meeting.
Goggin, who recently was elected to his fifth term as sheriff without competition, said he hasn’t had a pay raise in three years.
When Goggin asked at Thursday’s meeting why the commissioners had reduced his salary, Lizotte said he would not discuss personnel matters in a public forum. In a telephone interview Friday, Lizotte said his public comment about Goggin’s job performance was as much as he could say.
Despite Goggin’s comments, the proposed sheriff’s budget was approved by the budget committee, although four members of the 10-person board opposed the move — Tom Sands of Dover-Foxcroft, Tom Carone of Sangerville, Jan Ronco of Abbot and John Tatko of Willimantic.
“It doesn’t bode well to me to lower someone’s salary at this stage of the game,” Tatko said.
Last week, the budget committee recommended county government be funded in 2011 at the 2010 level. Departments were asked to adjust their budgets to those figures and then reduce them by 12.1 percent more. The latter move was needed because the county used $341,989 from surplus last year to offset taxes and there is no surplus this year to do the same.
On Thursday, however, the closest the departments and the commissioners could get to the recommendation was a 2.67 percent reduction for a total spending plan of $3.88 million.
“We just can’t get any further without cutting services and shutting down departments,” County Manager Marilyn Tourtelotte told the committee.
Tourtelotte said most departments did a good job in finding further cuts. She said the budget reviewed Thursday was the result of department head cuts and then additional cuts made by the commissioners, one of which was the sheriff’s salary.
The proposed budget includes an overall 2 percent pay increase for most full-time positions, based on current negotiations with the union that represents some of the employees in the Sheriff’s Department. The county commissioners, treasurer and judge of probate receive stipends.
Tourtelotte reported the county had anticipated a 12½ percent increase in health insurance, but a proposed changeover to a new plan would result in only a 6 percent increase.
The new plan was criticized by Tatko, who noted the county’s health benefits exceed what most businesses and industries offer. He said a health savings account that’s part of the proposed new policy basically would give each employee on the plan a $2,500 “raise.” The health savings accounts are intended to help cover employee co-payments. In addition, the county offers 100 percent health insurance coverage for single subscribers and 60 percent for family coverage, he noted.
The proposed budget also includes $10,000 for a clerk-of-the-works to represent the county’s interest when the state renovates the county courthouse. Another $10,000 will be required next year.
During the budget process, plans to buy two new police cruisers, add a new patrol position and buy three Tasers were scrapped, as were the usual $2,000 donations each to the Piscataquis County Chamber of Commerce and the Moosehead Lake Region Chamber of Commerce. A full-time vacant position in the District Attorney’s Office will be funded as a part-time 30-hour position, and a vacant patrol position in the Sheriff’s Department will remain unfilled.
If the proposed budget is adopted, assessments will increase for all communities. For example, Greenville will see an increase in its annual assessment of $11,663 and Dover-Foxcroft will see an increase of $29,689.
A public hearing will be held on the budget at 6 p.m. Monday, Nov. 22, in the Piscataquis County Courthouse. The commissioners, who have final say on the budget, are expected to adopt the budget by year’s end.