PARIS — Oxford County commissioners were praised this week by the county’s department heads for their guidance, confidence and calm leadership for the past year during the pandemic, and for developing policies that kept employees safe so they could still serve the public’s needs.

Oxford County Commissioner David Duguay of Byron, right, hands the chairman’s gavel to Timothy Turner of Buckfield in 2019 at a commissioners’ meeting in Paris. Commissioner Steve Merrill of Norway is at left. Provided photo

Commission Chairman Timothy Turner of Buckfield and commissioners Steven Merrill of Norway and David Duguay of Byron navigated the tricky path forward while facing COVID-19.

“Without hesitation, the three of you put your trust and confidence into your administration staff, department heads, employees and public safety officials to take the steps that were necessary to ensure that county business continued as consistently as possible,” the department heads said in a statement. “Because of your support, we were able to quickly and effectively implement much needed safety precautions and policies to ensure that our employees stayed safe and healthy so that they could continue with their duties.”

To show their gratitude, the department heads presented plaques at Thursday’s workshop for each of the commissioners, who were visibly surprised by the recognition.

“We can’t do our job without people like you,” Turner said. “It wasn’t just us.”

Employees have spoken glowingly about the atmosphere in the county facility on Western Avenue.

“The morale is through the roof,” said interim County Administrator Donald Durrah.

The county building, which includes offices for the county commissioners, county administrator, treasurer, Emergency Management Agency, register of deeds, register of probate and district attorney, closed during the early portion of the pandemic, but reopened in June with measures in place to protect office staff.  Some areas of the complex were closed to the public, but offices were open to the public by appointment or via phone.

Commissioners were quick to close the facility for a few weeks in December when a couple of employees tested positive for COVID-19. While the building was closed, county offices were still able to conduct business.

“The impact of your efforts has had ripple effects throughout our community,” the department heads said. “Constituents were able to continue with their business, employees and their families were provided for, and local businesses and vendors whom we work with were able to rely on us when they needed it most.”

“Your dedication to staff and your distinct leadership has inspired change that has brought Oxford County forward. Employee morale has strengthened during one of our toughest years.”

In other business, treasurer Beth Calhoun said finances are in good shape. Casino revenue remains down, but is slowly increasing as restrictions are lifted.

“I think we’ve seen the bottom,” Calhoun said.

Funds raised through the registry of deeds and probate are way above projected revenues. Calhoun noted that a home in Bethel with eight acres of land recently sold for $2 million without a mortgage.

The board agreed to request bids from banks for a 2021 tax anticipation note. Calhoun is hoping that the county can avoid purchasing a note with the increased revenues and using casino funds in the reserve account. That would save the county from paying interest costs and attorney fees for the notes.

Sheriff Christopher Wainwright said the COVID outbreak at Two Bridges Regional Jail has prevented the county from sending inmates there. With no other facilities in the state accepting inmates, the state gave Oxford County a 14-day extension to hold inmates. The county jail is currently a 72-hour holding facility, but plans to become a full-service jail later this year.

Durrah reported that he is planning to hold a meeting with all the town managers in Oxford County to discuss uses for the American Rescue Plan funds and how the county can partner with various municipalities.

“The first hour could be difficult, but once we get past that, it’s going to be an amazing way to get some thoughts and ideas,” he said.


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