AUBURN — The Androscoggin County Commission approved the $15.7 million county budget for 2021 Wednesday night, including the purchase of a $150,000 body scan for the county jail.

The vote to adopt the budget, which was recommended by the Budget Committee two weeks ago, was 6-1, with Commissioner Isaiah Lary of Wales in opposition.

Budget Committee Chairwoman Alicia Rea of Lewiston presented the proposed budget to the commissioners, providing reasons for the few changes the committee made. The major change was taking $150,000 from reserves to purchase a body scan for use in the Auburn jail.

Because the funds are coming out of reserves, the purchase will have no direct impact on the budget or taxes.

In response to a question from Commissioner Marc Roy of Lewiston on whether the device was absolutely necessary, Sheriff Eric Sanson said it would detect all contraband — including weapons and drugs — being smuggled into the jail. That alone could save lives. Samson said jail staff has used Narcan on a few occasions after an inmate overdosed on drugs in the facility.

Calling it an “important piece of equipment,” Samson said the device can also be used to scan packages and deliveries such as mattresses.

County Administrator Larry Post admitted he was torn about losing $150,000 from reserves, but added, “this is a worthwhile project.”

Lary was unhappy that the sheriff did not initially reveal to commissioners that he wanted to purchase a body scanner or say how much it could cost.

According to Samson, a scanner was always under consideration, but due to budget concerns and other pressing priorities in the jail, including a new heating system, the scanner was an item he was hoping to purchase in the next couple of years.

The Budget Committee initiated discussion on buying the body scanner. The committee, consisting of elected officials from the county municipalities, overwhelmingly supported the purchase by a 12-1 vote.

“This was not an end run around the commissioners,” Commissioner Sally Christner of Turner said. “The discussion developed organically.”

Lary argued against taking money out of reserves, especially during the pandemic.

Commissioner Noel Madore of Lewiston also expressed reservations about using reserve funds, but said he would support the budget.

In an attempt to stop the purchase, Lary proposed cutting the $150,000, along with $10,000 the committee had added back in for the Androscoggin and Sagadahoc Extension Service and all $40,000 budgeted for Western Maine Transportation. One of his six colleagues seconded the motion.

Speaking for many of the commissioners, Brian Ames of Lewiston said, “If it saves one life, I’m good with it.”

Nearly flat-funded, the budget as accepted would raise the county taxes on municipalities by 0.23%.

In other business, John Michael resigned as chairman, but will remain as a commissioner. Michael suggested appointing Roy to serve as chairman until his term ends at the end of the year, but Lary objected, citing the bylaws that require a unanimous vote to add an item to the agenda. Lary said he would oppose it.

Michael said he would include the item at the board’s next meeting as a way to honor Roy’s service. Roy agreed to serve as an interim commissioner following the 2019 death of John Butler.

The board spent more than 20 minutes discussing the process of how to evaluate the county administrator.

The meeting ended following a disagreement between Lary and Madore, who took opposite sides on the presidential election. Lary concluded his remarks by suggesting that people read certain books of the Bible.


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