AUBURN — The Androscoggin County Commission on Wednesday approved a request from Sheriff Eric Samson to add $13,000 to his proposed budget to provide 24-hour supervision for patrol staff.

The money would pay for the promotions of four officers to the rank of corporal to assist the shift supervisor, Samson said. No additional staff will be hired, he added.

The change will ensure that a line supervisor is always on duty to make decisions at all hours.

Samson said he’s been considering the move for a while, saying he wanted to get ahead of the curve.

“I want us to get ahead of what we’re expecting, instead of waiting and have to respond to it,” Samson said.

The move did not sit well with Commissioner Isaiah Lary of Wales, who complained about what he described as several cases of last-minute changes to the budget.

There is a chronic repetition to getting these additions at the last minute,” Lary said. “This needs to stop. We need to get the information ahead of time.

After John Michael of Auburn moved to increase the salary line by $13,000, Lary offered an amendment to change the amount to zero, but it died for the lack of a second.

Michael’s motion passed 4-1, with Michael, Terry Kelly of Mechanic Falls, Roland Poirier of Lewiston and Brian Ames in favor and Lary against. Sally Christner of Turner absent.

The change is still subject to approval by the Budget Committee and commissioners, who have final say on the budget.

Lary also did not like a proposed $20,000 new line item to start a capital reserve account for the Communications Department for future purchase of replacement radios. Samson said setting aside funds each year would be preferable to requesting a one-time large expenditure, which would require a loan with interest payments.

Once again, Lary tried to zero out the line item, but it also received no support from his colleagues.

When it came time to discuss the Sheriff’s Department Death Benefit account, Lary proposed increasing the yearly $17,942 payment to $25,000 due to inflation. That would be a 40% increase from previous years.

The amount of the death benefit is determined by calculating 50% of the deputy’s salary, who in this case died in 2006. The 50% level is stipulated by state statute.

Several commissioners liked the concept of increasing the death benefit but wondered if there were any potential drawbacks for future claims.

“Are we opening a can of worms?” Poirier asked. “We need to make sure we are thinking about this objectively and not emotionally.”

After Kelly, who chaired the meeting in Christner’s absence, suggested that the board seek more information before voting, commissioners agreed to table the proposal.

Lary returned to his anti-mask and anti-vaccine statements that consumed the board earlier this year. He again asked the sheriff if the county jail would force inmates to get vaccinated if ordered to do so by the governor.

Samson and Jail Administrator Maj. Jeffrey Chute responded as they did months ago: the jail does not force-feed inmates on a hunger strike, so it would not force injections on inmates.

Lary also quizzed the Androscoggin-Sagadahoc Extension Association on whether it would require participants to wear masks or get vaccinated.

The group responded that it follows UMaine guidelines, which require masks for vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals.

In a question from Michael, it was stated that reasonable accommodations can be made, including holding meetings outdoors and using technology like Zoom.

With funding cut last year due to the pandemic, the Extension Association is seeking to have its funding returned to the  prepandemic level of $51,154. Money from the county only pays for support staff and maintenance for the office in Lisbon. It does not include programs or salaries and benefits for programming staff, which are paid by the university.

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