AUBURN, ME—Sheriff Eric Samson pleaded with the Androscoggin County Commission on Wednesday to raise the salaries of deputies and correction officers so they won't leave for agencies offering higher pay and other benefits.
He pointed to recent decisions in Mechanic Falls and Sabattus to increase salaries by as much as $4 per hour. That would make wages higher than Androscoggin County's, Samson said. Lewiston, Auburn and Maine State Police also pay more than the county, he added.
An Androscoggin County patrol deputy's starting pay is $19.93 per hour, while corrections officers start at $18.61 per hour.
Samson has lost some staff to higher-paying agencies and he fears more could follow. The town of Mexico, for instance, was offering a $10,000 bonus for new officers.
Some neighboring agencies have begun actively recruiting members of his department by offering incentives, Samson added.
He asked commissioners for a minimum $1 an hour increase for corrections officers and a higher amount for patrol officers.
Most of the seven commissioners appeared to favor making a wage adjustment, but with the budget expected to be finalized in the next month, they wondered where money could be found at this late date to offer raises.
County Administrator Larry Post suggested using money from the American Rescue Plan Act, saying it would qualify by offsetting the amount against lost revenues.
The Budget Committee had already authorized using that for certain operational items in the budget.
"I think we have to," Commissioner Edouard Plourde of Lewiston said. "They are crumbling."
Asked if this needed to go before the Budget Committee, Post said it didn't because the federal coronavirus relief bill money is within the commissioners' jurisdiction.
"I think you're asking for trouble if you go back to the Budget Committee," Post said.
Commissioner Isaiah Lary of Wales said he was unhappy the issue came up so late in the process.
"We should have learned about this during the budget review," Lary said.
Commissioners said they would take up the matter at a future meeting when the total cost for the wage adjustment is determined. The board, however, did not say how much of an increase it was willing to consider.
In other business, several county residents spoke in opposition to vaccine and mask mandates at the state and federal levels and urged commissioners to support a resolution prepared by Lary, which would condemn "unconstitutional injection mandates." The resolution also condemns, "the action of Gov. Mills' administration and specifically, Dr. Nirav Shah, for removing the religious exemption for vaccination/injection of health care workers."
The resolution would not stop any proposed mandate, but Lary said it was important to speak out against any current or potential future vaccine mandate.
The resolution will likely be placed on the agenda of a meeting in the next month.
The board heard a presentation from Leeds Selectman Jan Wiegman and James McLean, a member of the Leeds Broadband Committee, that asked for help funding a broadband expansion. The $2 million project would bring broadband service to the entire town. Spectrum cable company provides service to almost 800 potential subscribers. That leaves nearly 329 potential subscribers without any internet service.
The town will partner with Axiom Technologies of Machias to build the network. The town, which will own the infrastructure, will not compete with Spectrum for customers, Wiegman said. He asked the county for $450,000, which he said based on population, was the town's share of the federal coronavirus relief money.
Town officials were told to submit a formal request in writing for commissioners to consider, but Commissioner Roland Poirier of Lewiston said it would be hard to grant the request with 13 other municipalities in the county.
The board did support spending the federal funds on two projects — $70,000 for flooring and roofing for the county building and $70,059 for accounting software system for the Treasurer's Office.
The board also heard a presentation by Tony Davis from Allied Engineering on the proposed $6.5 million HVAC system upgrade. The board took no action on the proposal.
Commissioners also approved a new remote policy for meetings, which will allow Zoom participation by the public.
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