AUBURN — Tens of thousands of dollars spent on legal fees by the county during the past couple of years have prompted the Androscoggin County Commission to consider a new policy for contacting the county attorney.

The policy introduced at Wednesday’s meeting would restrict commissioners from contacting the county attorney without authority from the board or County Administrator Larry Post.

According to Post and commission Chairwoman Sally Christner, commissioners sometimes sought legal opinions on county issues on their own without guidance from the board. Two or more commissioners would seek legal guidance on the same issue, increasing legal fees for redundant work. Even including the attorney in group emails incurred a cost.

The policy, recommended by some of the county towns, designates the administrator and the commission chairman as the gatekeepers. They will have the authority to seek legal advice from the county attorney.

The policy recommends that all commissioners should be part of the decision-making process, if possible.

“We don’t always know who calls,” said Commissioner Alfreda Fournier, who was a frequent critic of the high legal fees paid by the county. “This brings structure that we’ve long needed.”

Any individual commissioner who contacts the attorney without the approval of the board will be responsible for paying for those services.

With only Melissa Willette absent, the commissioners appeared to favor the new policy. 

Commissioner Isaiah Lary, who said he favored the change, suggested the term “time sensitive” be added to cover any possible emergencies.

The issue will be voted on at the next meeting Wednesday, Feb. 15.

Commissioners also approved the 2017 tax assessment with a minuscule overlay of $216. The county is allowed by law to assess an overlay of up to 2 percent, which would have totaled $182,171. Post decided, and the commissioners agreed, not to do that because of the nearly 6.5 percent tax increase in this year’s budget.

The initial report on jail funding was pessimistic, according to Post and Sheriff Eric Samson. Both raised concerns that the Legislature may not support a supplemental funding bill for the county jails.

Androscoggin County is hoping for at least $225,000 in additional state funds.

“There is some angst among the counties,” Post said. 

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