FARMINGTON – The Franklin County commissioners will hold a public hearing on the proposed 2017-18 unorganized territories budget next month. Amidst the typically-flat budget will be a proposal to add a deputy position specifically assigned to the U.T.’s collection of plantations, townships and de-organized towns.
Sheriff Scott Nichols has proposed adding a deputy position that would be funded out of the U.T. budget. That deputy would spend his or her shift in the U.T. in a bid to reduce response times and create a more visible police presence. The additional position would cost $100,000 in the first year, including the deputy’s salary, benefits and cruiser, with that cost decreasing to roughly $69,000 annually until the cruiser needed to be replaced.
The proposal would not directly increase the Franklin County budget, which funds the FCSO and its existing nine deputy positions. The U.T. budget is approved by commissioners and then the state’s fiscal administrator, who presents the budget to the state Legislature. Budgeted services in the U.T., including fire protection, ambulance services and road work, is paid for by U.T. residents.
Nichols noted that a similar arrangement is utilized in Somerset County, allowing a deputy to patrol that county’s U.T. “Anything we can do to help the people up there,” Nichols said, “I’m all in.”
The FCSO currently patrols the U.T. and northern part of the county on a bi-weekly basis, regularly exchanging patrol schedules with Maine State Police. A trooper patrols the southern part of the county while the FCSO is patrolling the northern section, and vice versa. Organized towns with a police force, such as Wilton, Jay or Farmington, are not regularly patrolled, although FCSO units do respond to calls when requested.
Nichols recorded 282 calls for service in the U.T. in the past year. Simply having an additional deputy on the road could be a deterrence, Nichols said, using a recent burglary at a Chesterville store as an example. The sheriff said that the suspects fled the store mid-break-in after a deputy passed by.
“One of the greatest things we can do for deterrence is have a presence,” Lt. David Rackliffe said.
District Attorney Andrew Robinson spoke in favor of lowering response times in the context of domestic violence cases, where an emergency service call is oftentimes made as situations are escalating. Currently, Nichols estimated, it can take 20 to 25 minutes for deputies to respond to a call in the U.T., depending on patrol positioning.
Commissioners had varying reactions to the proposal. Commissioner Clyde Barker of Strong, a former deputy whose district includes most of the county’s U.T., said he was in favor of the proposal.
Commissioner Gary McGrane of Jay said he wanted a greater FCSO presence in the southern part of the county, where there are more people, rather than the north, where there are fewer. He also said he was concerned about the request growing into additional positions and patrols over the next few years. McGrane suggested removing the request for the funding from the 2017-18 U.T. budget.
Commissioner Charlie Webster of Farmington said that he wanted to hear from U.T. residents. He said he was willing to leave the funding request in the budget, but would listen to U.T. residents concerns about the impact on their taxes or interested in an additional patrol. He recommended holding the public hearing on the U.T. budget somewhere more central to the northern part of the county, rather than Farmington.
The public hearing has been scheduled for Dec. 12 at the Stratton Community Center on Dec. 12 at 6 p.m. Meanwhile, Nichols and County Clerk Julie Magoon will meet with the U.T. fiscal administrator to discuss the issue.