County budget battle looms

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AUBURN – New Sheriff Guy Desjardins’ plan to sacrifice jobs in the jail so he could boost the ranks of patrol deputies was shot down Wednesday by the Androscoggin County Commission.

The three-member commission agreed with the cuts, slashing the jail budget but not making the additions.

“We have to stay within the budget restrictions,” Chairman Elmer Berry said.

Adding the two positions to the patrol ranks would have cost the patrol budget about $130,000, said Commissioner Helen Poulin.

This year, with this budget, it’s too much money, she said.

Yet, Desjardins, in only his third day on the job, said he was concerned by the commission’s decision.

Currently, the department puts only a sergeant and a patrol deputy on the road each night, covering the county’s 14 towns.

It’s not enough, the sheriff said. Someone could get hurt.

“You can play that game and be lucky just so many times,” he said.

It’s only the most recent controversy facing the county budget.

An earlier version of the 2007 budget called for spending to rise by a modest 3.49 percent, from $9.88 million in 2006 to $10.2 million in 2007.

However, it called for a boost in county tax bills by an average of 11.1 percent.

The commission plans to unveil its new proposal with updated numbers on Friday, in anticipation of a Budget Committee meeting next Wednesday, Jan. 10.

Desjardins vowed Wednesday to ask the committee for the officers, too.

“If we don’t get them this year, we’re going to get them next year, for the good of the department,” he said. “It’s too soon to be discouraged.”

He learned of the commission’s decision Wednesday afternoon in an impromptu and unpublished meeting.

The commission saw the patrol jobs as additions.

“We didn’t take them away,” Commissioner Helen Poulin told Desjardins. “They were never there.”

To Desjardins, the loss was disheartening.

Besides the safety issues, the new sheriff had been encouraged by unusual cooperation between the patrol and corrections arms of the department.

The two have often competed for budget money. In this case, one was making a sacrifice for the other, Desjardins said.

“That was sweet,” he said.

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