AUBURN — Ray Lafrance figures this is his chance to be Androscoggin County’s sheriff.
The mild-mannered Poland man, who has served as the county’s Patrol Division captain for 28 years, never wanted to run against a sitting sheriff.
“I’m a very loyal person,” he said. “I didn’t want to go against a boss.”
But with Sheriff Guy Desjardins leaving the office in December after two terms and eight years, he couldn’t pass up the chance to enter the race. Earlier this year, he left the Democratic party and enrolled as an independent in hopes of reaching more voters, he said.
“I don’t have an organization behind me,” he said. “I’m going to different public events and trying to get the word out.”
His aim is to continue to serve as a frugal county leader.
“Sometimes I get criticized. I can be a little tight,” Lafrance said. “My goal is to provide the best service at an affordable cost.”
Too many public leaders spend according to the need, said Lafrance, who cited his own departmental budgets and their unbroken history of finishing in the black.
“There’s always a need,” he said. However, people need to be mindful of the impact on property taxes. “It’s really important that people can live in their homes.”
The county’s next sheriff will likely face an immediate budget squeeze, particularly in relation to the county jail.
Unlike either of his opponents — Democrat Eric Samson and Republican Timothy Lajoie — Lafrance favors sticking with the state’s current network of county jails.
Though it has lots of problems, the alternative is worse, he said.
“I’m a strong believer in county control,” he said. However, the controversial system that took some of the jails’ control away from sheriffs and counties also took a monetary burden. If county had to pay the jail’s current costs, the county taxes would have to climb by more than $1 million for the year, he said.
“I don’t think Androscoggin County can afford to turn back the clock,” he said.
Another issue facing the new sheriff will be restructuring throughout the county, largely due to the new county charter approved by voters in December 2013.
The same ballot that lists Lafrance and the other candidates will also list competitors for new seats on the County Commission. The charter expanded the commission from three members to seven.
There could be as many as five new members. The new commission will be charged with hiring the county’s first professional administrator. And there will also be several openings within the Sheriff’s Department, including a chief deputy and a new jail administrator.
“You’re going to have to get the right people into the right jobs,” Lafrance said.
His long experience in local law enforcement would be helpful, he said.
A native of Lewiston, Lafrance joined the department in 1977 as a reserve officer. He worked in both the jail and the patrol division while doing several other jobs. He spent time as a volunteer EMT, as a reserve officer for the Sabattus Police Department and even as a detective for the long-closed Bradlee’s department store.
He was hired as a full-time officer in 1982, shortly after moving to Poland with his wife. He spent several years on patrol duties before being promoted in 1986 to captain.
He has served as a Poland selectman and serves as the security superintendent for the Fryeburg Fair.