Police in Androscoggin County's small town departments — Sabattus, Lisbon, Mechanic Falls and Livermore Falls — worry that proposed cuts in services at the Androscoggin County Jail could be devastating.
If enacted, cuts could force more local police departments to fingerprint and photograph people who are arrested, keep them in custody while they await bail and give them rides to court.
"When you're a small town and you only have one or two people on duty, then you're telling that town they have to take their officer out of their town in order to transport someone," Lisbon police Chief David Brooks said Monday. "And that's a problem."
Sheriff Guy Desjardins announced the cuts last week, saying they will happen if the state Board of Corrections forces the jail to get by on the same $6 million budget as it did last year. Costs, including food, health care and payroll, are all rising, forcing him to raise the budget by $357,000 to maintain services, he said.
If the state forces him to cut that money, the only way to balance his budget is to cut services, too, he said.
First, he would cut the number of minimum security inmates he could house from 80 people to 40, he said. With fewer inmates, he could then cut five staff jobs.
He detailed the cuts in a memo emailed Monday to the county's police chiefs.
"As sheriff, my primary responsibility is to maintain a high level of safety and security within for staff and inmate population. As a result, services that are not legally required may be scuttled, with staff being forced to do more with less," Desjardins said.
He would close down the jail to most incoming inmates between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., accepting only people charged with felonies or violent misdemeanors. For new inmates making their first appearance in court, transportation would be left to the arresting agency.
Police chiefs in Lewiston and Auburn did not respond Monday afternoon to requests for comment.
However, the small town chiefs worry about ballooning overtime budgets and what could happen in their towns if officers are away.
"It would be crippling for us," said Jeffrey Goss, Mechanic Falls' police chief. He and his officers know how to photograph and fingerprint people, something typically done at the jail. But his people don't have time to wait around for a bail commissioner to set bail so that someone can be freed with a summons. Rather than patrolling, the officer would be sitting in the police station.
In Sabattus, Chief Anthony Ward worried what would happen in cases of arrests for operating under the influence if the individual could not produce bail. Like the others, he said he has too few officers to spare.
"I do not envy the position of the sheriff," Ward said. He, like the sheriff, faces cuts in his budget. "I would definitely oppose most of (Desjardins') proposals."
Livermore Falls police Chief Ernest Steward Jr. said he, too, is totally unsuited to book arrested individuals, and the transportation demands could be costly.
"It would certainly affect us greatly because we're so far north," Steward said. A one-way trip to Auburn takes 25 or 30 minutes. "That's going to tie us up big time."
Desjardins hopes it will never come to that.
He plans to present his plan to the state Board of Corrections at its Aug. 20 meeting in Augusta in hopes that the full funding is found.
Even with the cuts, the changes won't be made unless the state finds somewhere else to house 40 or so inmates.
"I cannot, and will not, reduce staff and maintain an inmate population at its current level," Desjardins told the chiefs in his memo. "Doing so would be a failure as sheriff to provide a safe and secure work environment for staff along with the safe keeping of our inmate population. I suspect it may also be viewed as a lack of due diligence on my part as well."