April 19, 2019

$3.1 million budget attracts little interest

SKOWHEGAN — Fewer than six people raised questions about the $3.1 million Somerset County budget proposal Wednesday.

Despite a packed courtroom at the county courthouse, most of the people present were county employees or representatives of social service agencies. The occasion was the annual public hearing on the proposed budget. The majority of questions came from two of the Sheriff’s Department chief critics, Linda Smithers and Debra Vitalone.

Smithers zeroed in on the department’s training plans and on what appeared to be an underbudgeted account for transport of prisoners. Vitalone focused on the department’s medical expenses and administration, charging overmedication of prisoners.

Comparing the reserve corrections-transport allocation to the previous year, Smithers said the account was 230 percent overexpended as of Tuesday. She questioned the wisdom of the department in merely doubling the account request.

“Aren’t we simply building in an overdraft for next year?” she asked.

Chief Deputy Mike Brown talked about hours worked, hourly pay, total quality management, and a legislative edict limiting the time juveniles can be held by the county in his initial response. It wasn’t until Smithers called the allocation “impractical and unrealistic” that Brown explained that new full-time personnel would cut down on the cost of reserve officers used for transporting prisoners. Brown explained that new officers were needed in the jail account, because three members of the law enforcement department were paid from that account until the new budget proposal.

He also stressed the lack of revenue for support of the jail. He said the state had failed to pay more than $300,000 for boarding state prisoners.

Smithers appeared dissatisfied with the sketchy plan for training. She cited a lengthy list of expenditures from the training budget with only 26 percent actually allotted to training. Other expenditures from the account included travel expenses, meals, weapons and ammunition. She criticized the department for not including more training in communication skills, dealing with crisis situations and “barricaded persons.”

She asked, “Am I going to be sitting here next year asking you where the money went?”

She was assured that if the training budget were to be doubled, it would all be spent on training.

Vitalone was told the department has little control over the medication of prisoners since decisions are left to the department’s doctor. The audience was told, however, that proposals have been made not only to replace the single contracted doctor, but to provide full contracted medical services for the corrections facility. The proposals, although double in cost, also would remove the liability of the department in dispensing medications.

State Rep. Louise Townsend questioned the pay and benefits of the Register of Probate and Register of Deeds, pointing out the maintenance supervisor for the courthouse receives a higher wage.

Chairman of Commissioners Charles Carpenter conceded the three commissioners were not happy with the budget, but were helpless to change it.

State Rep. Dorothy Rotondi said the county legislative delegation will review the budget in early January.

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