Piscataquis County officials tell sheriff he’s breaking the law

John Goggin
John Goggin
Posted Oct. 04, 2011, at 7:25 p.m.
Last modified Oct. 05, 2011, at 11:21 a.m.

DOVER-FOXCROFT, Maine — Piscataquis County commissioners directed Sheriff John Goggin on Tuesday to follow state law and county statute by seeking approval first when he needs to transfer funds in his budget from one line-item account to another to cover costs.

In past years and without prior approval, Goggin said he has transferred funds in his budget from one line item to another — to cover costs and stay within his total budget — without any problems.

Just because Goggin has done that in the past doesn’t mean it is right, according to the commissioners. They made it known to Goggin earlier this year that state statutes and county rules require prior approval for accountability of tax dollars.

Goggin, however, failed to take that step recently when he transferred about $450 to pay for cruiser maintenance. He was taken to task Tuesday for not following that procedure.

“When you have insufficient appropriations and you need to transfer funds between line items, the department head must submit a written request through the county commissioners and must get written approval from the commissioners before that money can be spent,” Commissioner Tom Lizotte explained Tuesday.

Lizotte said Erik Stumpfel, the county’s attorney, confirmed to the commissioners that Maine law requires the prior approval of line-item transfers.

“John is not doing that, so we have a situation where the chief law enforcement officer of the county who’s sworn to uphold the laws of the state of Maine is not following the state of Maine laws in this case,” Lizotte said. “What an odd situation. We’re asking the sheriff of the county to follow state laws, basically.”

In response, Goggin said he didn’t understand the issue. “I’m the sheriff of Piscataquis County. I don’t understand for one second why I have to go through the county commissioners,” he told them. “You seem to find it convenient to be able to transfer funds whenever you find it necessary to transfer funds from one line item from another.”

The difference, Lizotte said, is that the commissioners vote on any transfers they make within line items.

“By law, they have nothing to say about my budget as far as line items go,” Goggin said outside the meeting. “Once my budget is presented and is passed, I don’t have to follow any line item. All I have to follow is the entire budget amount.”

He said the law cited by Stumpfel is ambiguous. “There is no state statute that clearly defines what the sheriff is required to do with his operating budget.”

Had the commissioners funded his budget as requested, Goggin said, he wouldn’t have the problems he now has. His funds for part-time help are exhausted and his vehicle maintenance continues to climb, a reflection of the fact he hasn’t had a new cruiser in four years, Goggin said. As a sign that he is fiscally conservative, Goggin noted he has expended only about 67 percent of his budget with three months left in the year.

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