DOVER-FOXCROFT, Maine — Gaining access to remote areas during the winter months, when camp and some woods roads are covered by snow, will be a little easier in the future for the Piscataquis County Sheriff’s Department.
The county commissioners on Tuesday authorized the purchase of a $7,900 wide-track snowmobile. Half the cost will be funded through the county’s operational reserve account and the remainder funded through the department’s counterdrug fund. That fund contains money or the proceeds of items sold after being forfeited in drug busts and awarded to the department by the courts.
The fact that the snowmobile funding had not been included or discussed in the budget process prompted concern from Commissioner Fred Trask of Milo, who voted against the purchase. He also questioned the use of counterdrug money for such a purpose, saying, “It just seemed like a stretch of creative financing.”
The purchase also irritated Brownville Town Manager Sophia Wilson, who told the commissioners Tuesday she didn’t have an opinion on whether the snowmobile was needed, but reminded the commissioners that the county does have a budget process. She said towns are “wrestling” with cutting full services to keep taxes as low as possible.
“I just think this is not going to play well in the community,” Wilson warned.
Chief Deputy Dale Clukey, who submitted four bids on a snowmobile, said the immediate need for the snowmobile this winter was prompted by incidents that have occurred in remote Chesuncook, which is accessible in the winter by only aircraft, snowmobiles and, in some instances, all-terrain vehicles.
In the past, the department has had to borrow a snowmobile from another agency, if one was available, or deputies used their own personal snowmobiles to respond to incidents in the hinterlands, Sheriff John Goggin told the commissioners earlier this month when making the request. The use of private vehicles prompted some concern among county officials over liability issues.
Trask suggested that if the snowmobile was being used in the Unorganized Territory, then the funding should come from that budget, not the county budget.
Commissioner Tom Lizotte reminded Trask that the Unorganized Territory pays one-third of the county budget, which includes its fair share of law enforcement.
Trask also voted against the purchase of a 2010 Ford Explorer XLT for the Sheriff’s Department even though the funds were included in the budget. The $24,565 bid from Hight of Skowhegan, the lowest of three bids submitted, was accepted.
County Treasurer Paul Raymond had asked whether the purchase could be delayed until later this year after some towns have paid their taxes. Otherwise, Raymond said, it was possible the purchase would have to be funded through the loan that was taken out in anticipation of taxes.
That bothered Trask, who said it would mean the county would pay about $750 in interest for the early purchase.