PARIS — An unpaid bill recently left deputies with the Oxford County Sheriff’s Office without access to their fuel cards and unable to put gasoline into their cruisers for more than two days, according to Sheriff Chris Wainwright.

Interim County Administrator Tom Winsor pinned the missed bill payment on a staffing shortage within the Finance Department that has existed since December.

“On Dec. 1, we had a long-time business manager, who is normally responsible for data entry, resign,” Winsor said. “Shortly after that, another employee suffered a medical event and has been unable to come back to work.

“In the meantime, (executive assistant) Abby Shanor and I have been trying to fill in, but there hasn’t been any cross-training between the Finance Department and administration.”

The commissioners addressed the staffing shortage within the Finance Department at Tuesday’s commissioners meeting by hiring Berry Talbot Royer Certified Public Accountants of Falmouth to provide accounting and payroll services for the county through Dec. 31.

The amount of the contract was not announced, but Winsor said it will be less expensive than hiring a full-time employee.

Wainwright said the Sheriff’s Office should have never been in a situation where it had no access to fuel in the first place.

“We have 31 cars in the fleet, and we’re providing coverage 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” Wainwright said. “We cover 2,200 miles in this county. That’s 1 1/2 times the size of Rhode Island.

“I told the commissioners that we can’t let anything like this happen again. I expressed my displeasure with them, and with the fact that this cost us time and money.”

Winsor said the issue with the Sheriff’s Office fuel cards arose after he was unable to gain access to the website that allows the county to pay certain bills, including the Sheriff’s Office fuel bills.

“The password to access the website wasn’t up to date, so we weren’t able to get on to see what our balance was,” Winsor said, adding he had been working with the company to get a temporary password.

“We were learning about different bills and accounts that we didn’t know about,” he said, “and we were unfamiliar with the website used to access those accounts.”

Wainwright said he was eventually able to make contact Saturday with local police chiefs and Maine state troopers, who gave deputies access to their fuel supply until the fuel cards were reactivated Monday.

“Before we were able to get fuel from other agencies, I was using my own credit card to buy gas for the deputies’ cruisers,” Wainwright said.

Wainwright said some of his deputies have also reported that for months, their paychecks and pay stubs were displaying incorrect information, including accrual rate errors and lost weeks of vacation.

“We would email the county and would get no response,” Wainwright said. “It can be really frustrating and demoralizing for employees when you don’t hear anything.”

Winsor said he was always worried something like this could happen.

“It’s a scary thing to have a functioning Finance Department one second,” he said, “and then the next it’s gone and you’re left trying to figure things out.”

The contract with Berry Talbot Royer will help alleviate the staffing shortage, Winsor said.

Before the vote to authorize the contract with Berry Talbot Royer, Winsor told commissioners he was looking forward to the Falmouth firm assisting the county “because I’ve been way out of my comfort zone here.”

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