DOVER-FOXCROFT, Maine — The Piscataquis County budget advisory committee told county commissioners Monday to reduce the proposed 2012 county budget to reflect a zero percent tax increase from 2011.
That directive means the commissioners must pare an additional $169,000 from the proposed $3.99 million spending plan. Once the cuts have been made, the budget committee will review the changes and make its recommendation on the entire budget. The commissioners then will take the committee’s recommendation under consideration before they adopt the budget.
The proposed budget increase was attributed, in part, to a 44 percent increase in health insurance costs and an approximately $90,000 increase in the Sheriff’s Department account, of which $60,000 is for two new cruisers.
Sheriff John Goggin said Monday that his cruiser is 9 years old, his chief deputy’s cruiser is 8 years old, and both have transmission problems but the department hasn’t had the funds to repair them.
“We’ve got to come up with a system where we are not trying to haywire all these things together and somebody gets hurt,” Goggin said. “Because if somebody gets hurt, then the county is going to wish we bought five cruisers yesterday because somebody’s going to get sued big time.”
Although Goggin said his department had not purchased a new cruiser in about four years, Commissioner Tom Lizotte reminded the committee that the county purchased three new cruisers in the past four years.
Aside from the vehicles, Goggin said budget cuts made last year caused problems in his part-time help, overtime and vehicle repair accounts, which are or may be in the red at year’s end. He said he had spent only 82 percent of his entire budget as of Nov. 1. Starting in the next two weeks, all 911 cell calls will be answered by the Sheriff’s Department, which also will affect his budget, he said. The department already answers 911 calls made from land-line phones.
County Clerk Marilyn Tourtellote said she was told that some state funds will flow to the county for that added 911 service.
Committee members indicated that some changes are needed to find ways to help reduce county law enforcement costs, such as using the services of the state police, which taxpayers already fund, or through better collaboration with local police.
The committee was told that a meeting will be held in December among municipal officials, local, county and state police and the public to further discuss law enforcement.
While Goggin has stated repeatedly his opposition to a call-sharing agreement with state police based on a bad experience in past years, he told the committee that he supported more presence from the state police.
“For some unknown reason, everybody’s blaming the sheriff because they don’t see any state police in Piscataquis,” he said. “I don’t direct them as to where they can go and where they can’t go.”
Just because there is no call-sharing agreement doesn’t mean that the state police can’t work the county, he said. “I want state police to work in Piscataquis County. We all pay tax dollars to the state and I want their services here and I want them to handle complaints here.”
Correction: A previous version of this story said that the budget advisory committee sought a zero increase in the budget. The panel sought a zero percent increase in the tax rate.