Published DateBy Daymond Steer
OSSIPEE — For now, calves for the farm are in the county commissioner's proposed budget but funding for a canine for the jail is out. Commissioners will be fine tuning the draft of their proposed $28 million county budget Wednesday and they want to do a lot of trimming because the proposed amount to be raised by taxes is up by roughly $1.8 million over the current budget.
In the county budget process, commissioners must finish a draft budget by Dec. 1 and submit it to the state. But the final county budget is far from being completed. The official county budget is passed by a group of 15 state representatives, called the delegation. The delegation finishes the budget in March.
"It will be reduced next week either by putting in more surplus or cutting expenses — or a little of both," said commission chair David Sorensen of the proposed amount to be raised by taxes. "I just don't think we need to put more tax burden on the taxpayers even though there are a lot of figures in there that when the budget goes up we have no control over."
Cost items that are out of the commission's control include workmen's compensation and health insurance. Another reason the amount to be raised by taxes is increasing is because there's less money from surplus to offset taxes. In 2012, the commission used $1.4 million in surplus funds to lower the amount to be raised by taxes. County finance Manager Kathy Garry recommended using only $500,000 in surplus for the 2013 budget.
Recently, corrections officer Ian Morrison came to the commission proposing the purchase of a canine, which could serve a number of purposes such as tracking escaped inmates, detecting illegal drugs and helping other law enforcement agencies with searches for missing people. The cost of getting the dog would have been over $10,000.
The jail had an escape last December. An inmate was able to jump off a roof, climb over barbed wire to gain his freedom. The inmate remained on the lamb for days until he was finally caught in Rochester.
"If we had a dog on grounds for the majority of the week, we wouldn't have the problem where we have an escape. We have to call an outside agency, they have to get ready, dress up, come here, get briefed and start looking," said Morrison.
Last week, commissioners opted not to fund the canine because sheriff-elect Domenic Richardi plans to keep his department's canine on duty for a couple of years. The sheriff's office is located close to the jail. Commissioners are also considering the jail's request for $35,500 for a perimeter fence and $40,000 for interior cameras designed to cover the blind spots in the building.
The commissioners approved farm manager Will DeWitte's request to purchase two calves and related equipment. The calves will be raised for beef for the nursing home. Presently, the county farm is not in the cattle business. The proposed cost of the calves and related equipment for 2013 is $3,300.
"We can give it a try and see if it works out," said commissioner Asha Kenney (R-Wakefield).
County commissioner-elect David Babson (R-Ossipee) also supported the cattle plan, noting the the cost, a few thousand dollars, might be worth the "gamble" because DeWitte's other programs at the farm have been successful.
Last week, commissioners trimmed corrections department superintendent Jason Johnson's $27,500 request for new equipment back to $10,000. The request included two handguns, two shotguns, assorted ammo, a gun safe, gun racks for vehicles, Taser equipment, shackles and a number of other items. Commissioners agreed the gun safe and the gun racks sounded important.
The week before, corrections department specialist Michael Baker came to commissioners to explain the budget request. A gun safe is one of the most important items the jail needs because the small flimsy cabinet they have been using is unsecure.
Corrections officers are armed when they take prisoners outside the facility — for purposes such as work details and trips to the hospital, Baker explained. Corrections officers are also armed if they have to do home checks. An armed officer stands outside the fence when inmates are in the recreation yards, he said.
The county corrections department itself only has two pistols and about a dozen officers bring in their own. Corrections officers have been leaving their guns in their cars because there's no secure place to put their firearms in the facility. Baker would prefer it if the county could issue guns to all the corrections officers.
Baker's request included 20,000 rounds of handgun ammunition. Baker said ideally, he would ask for 27,000 rounds to train every officer in the facility but he was asking for less in order to save money. Baker explained he'd like to give each officer 900 rounds per year to train with. Of that, 600, or 50 rounds per month, would be used for officers to practice on their own time and 300 would be used in supervised training and qualification days. Corrections officers are issued additional ammunition for duty.
The request for 50 rounds per month of practice ammunition is new but the rest of the items had been in the corrections department's proposed budget requests for a number of years.
Baker said he was also "shorting" to save money in terms of shotgun and rifle ammunition and Taser equipment.
"What is the need to get them (corrections officers) up to standards and how are the weapons going to be used?" asked Sorensen.
Baker replied, "We need to keep the public safe, the inmates safe and the officers safe when the officers go out."
When asked what happens if the funding request isn't met, Baker replied that officers would not be trained on the programs that are cut.
"We're not shorting police officers and the sheriff's office on the tools on their belt," said Baker, adding corrections officers are in the law enforcement field too.
At last week's meeting, county watchdog Steve Brown felt the weapons request was excessive. He said it's as if the jail staff were taking prisoners to Afghanistan.
"It's like they are getting ready to go to war with someone we aren't aware of," said Brown.
Sorensen replied the jail staff needs to have protection, but perhaps the request was "going overboard."