Piscataquis County sheriff says budget cut has caused department crisis

Posted June 07, 2011, at 3:51 p.m.
Last modified June 08, 2011, at 10:07 a.m.

DOVER-FOXCROFT, Maine — Sheriff John Goggin received little sympathy from Piscataquis County commissioners Tuesday when he announced his department will run out of funds for part-time help and overtime by late July.

Goggin said he has about $4,000 left in his part-time account for the rest of the year, $1,000 of which is for the training costs of part timers. He also said it has been difficult filling full-time slots because of a manpower shortage. Goggin blamed his fiscal woes on the budget cuts made last fall. The commissioners did not fill a full-time position vacated by David Wilson and they pared the department’s part-time budget by about $7,000, he said.

“We’ve got to that point now where it is a crisis,” Goggin warned.

Goggin said some relief was provided by the transfer of about $2,000 in unused funds from the jail’s part-time account to the sheriff’s part-time account. That move was seen justified because part-time deputies are used to transport inmates.

Commissioner Tom Lizotte wondered aloud how jail funds could be moved into the sheriff’s account without state approval since the jail budget is controlled by the State Board of Corrections. He believed approval should have been sought first before the move was made.

While Goggin said those funds will help, it does not eliminate his crisis. He figures he needs at least $5,000 more for part-time help.

“I understand your concerns but clearly the county budget is how we assess taxes to the taxpayers and we can’t spend money we don’t have,” Lizotte said. “So to me, your job as sheriff, is to operate your department within the financial resources provided to you and that means you might have to adjust operations as a response to this.”

If he had the proper funding in the start, Goggin said, he would not have the problems he now faces. He threatened that when the funds run out, he could very well close the department at 4 p.m. on Friday and keep the department closed over weekends.

Unfazed, Lizotte said the department did not have Wilson’s position prior to May 27, 2007, and the patrol budget then was $635,000 a year. In comparison, he said Goggin has the same staffing now as he had in 2006, yet with a budget of $731,500.

“You’re not comparing apples to apples; you’re comparing 2006 to 2011,” Goggin retorted.

The county’s population has not expanded in that time; rather, it has just grown older, Lizotte said.

“I haven’t seen any statistics to show that there’s been a tremendous increase in crime,” he remarked. “There’s a difference in being unable to operate within your budget and being unwilling to operate within your budget and I think that’s what’s happening here. The county commissioners will not be signing off on any warrants that intentionally overdraft accounts in the sheriff’s department because that money does not exist.”

Goggin said he had never had a problem before in his 20 years of service to the county.

“This is the first year we’ve ever been cut back to the level that we’ve been cut back to this year,” he said.

Incensed from the lack of support he received Tuesday, Goggin said outside the meeting, “I will be here long after those two commissioners [Lizotte and Fred Trask] are gone, and we will turn this sad situation around that has enveloped the Piscataquis County Sheriff’s Department.”

In the meantime, he said his office will have to cut back on its patrol hours and will need to prioritize incoming complaints. In addition, his office will be unable to help towns with parades, local celebrations, security details and school programs.

Also on Tuesday, the commissioners agreed in concept to a proposed consolidated fire protection contract for the eastern Unorganized Territory and expect to sign a contract on June 21. The towns of Brownville and Milo and the Sebec Fire Department have agreed to provide coverage for a total of $40,000 in 2011 and $46,000 in each of the second and third years. The new contract, which is funded by the Unorganized Territory, removes the per-incident fee on top of the flat fee.

Not all of the commissioners supported the contract. “I’m certainly not in favor of this,” Commissioner Eric Ward said. Ward, on speakerphone from Texas, said it will increase the cost significantly from the past. He said there should be uniformity in the county’s contracts for the Unorganized Territory.

The commissioners learned that the District Attorney’s office received a $30,000 Department of Justice grant to fund a child abuse investigator and a domestic violence investigator through July 2012. Both positions were cut during the budget process.

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