ELLSWORTH – State law enforcement officials have found a way to save one of three positions in Hancock County’s anti-drug task force.
Darrell Crandall, a division commander with the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency, said Tuesday a vacant agent’s position in the southern end of the state has been shifted to Hancock County, meaning there will be at least one drug agent working locally through 2006.
Crandall said Roy McKenney, director of MDEA, made the shift to recognize the commitment Hancock County has made to its task force.
The MDEA’s decision was welcomed by Ellsworth Police Chief John DeLeo and Hancock County Sheriff William Clark, who for the past month have been considering alternative funding methods for the program. While the initiative has been widely celebrated as a success, the future of the task force has been in jeopardy because of a lack of money for next year.
DeLeo shared the good news Tuesday with Hancock County Commissioners Kenneth R. Shea and Fay A. Lawson.
“I think it’s a vote of confidence,” DeLeo said during a meeting with the commissioners. “All the comments I’ve received have been positive about the work of the task force.”
The program was created in 2003 after residents demanded that more be done to curb the area’s growing drug problem. In 2004, the task force’s first full year of operation, agents made 52 drug-related arrests, a dramatic increase over the eight arrests made by the MDEA in 2003.
The unit includes one full-time officer each from the Sheriff’s Department, the Bar Harbor Police Department and the Ellsworth Police Department. Crandall said it has yet to be determined who would fill the position. The job was posted and the three agents serving the task force were invited to apply. As of Monday, there were at least two applicants, although Crandall declined to identify them.
The posting is scheduled to close at noon today, and interviews will be done in late April, he said.
Since its inception, the task force has been funded by the Hancock County commissioners. And while the plan has always been to ask the state to take over funding in the program’s third year, Clark and DeLeo learned recently that the next state budget includes no assistance for the task force.
On Tuesday, DeLeo said the MDEA’s recent action could save the county $25,000 to $30,000. Shea, the commissioners’ chairman, suggested that the county consider putting any savings into a reserve account to be used for future costs of the task force.
While funding for two of the three agents remains unresolved, Shea seemed encouraged by the recent news from MDEA.
“Getting even one agent is quite a help,” he said.