Area drug problem dominates discussion at county budget talks

ELLSWORTH — Hancock County’s drug problem dominated discussion surrounding a review of a $1.2-million proposed Sheriff’s Department budget at the Hancock County Budget Advisory Committee’s Oct. 21 meeting.

The advisory committee, composed of municipal officials and residents, is meeting every Wednesday for several weeks to review the proposed county budget for 2016.

The committee also provides the Hancock County Commissioners with insight into community concerns, and right now that’s drugs.

Brooksville Appeals Board member Hal Snow cited newspaper reports about drug arrests and asked Sheriff Scott Kane about the problem.

“Knowing the things we have to deal with would scare you to death,” Kane said. “It’s a battle. It’s crazy.”

The Budget Advisory Committee learned the state of Maine limits overtime pay for Maine Drug Enforcement Agency investigators.

“Seriously, the state, with the drug problem we’ve got, that’s what the answer is?” Stonington Town Manager Kathleen Billings asked. “How do we get more [help] for a problem that’s just blowing up?”

“Drug investigations take time to put all those things together,” Kane explained.

Billings asked if a lack of overtime has affected any arrests.

Kane said it hasn’t because the MDEA works closely with local police agencies.

“We’re trying to do the most we can with what the taxpayers will support,” the sheriff said.

Snow asked state Rep. Ralph Chapman (D-Brooksville), who is the budget committee’s legislative advocate, about sponsoring legislation for more funding for drug enforcement.

Chapman replied that considering the state’s limited resources, the question is always how much funding should go to enforcement and how much should go to treatment resources.

Schatz replied that it’s not a question of funding treatment or enforcement.

“Those are false choices,” he said.

Billings asked about the possibility of using wind turbine revenue for drug treatment.

Joy said that might be a possibility for the next budget year.

The drug discussion surrounded a review of the proposed $1.2-million budget for the Sheriff’s Department.

Joy expressed concern about the department’s personnel growth.

The commissioner recalled that Detective Stephen McFarland’s position, as investigator for the district attorney, was originally funded by a grant but that the cost has now been absorbed by the county.

“We added last year a director of standards and compliance,” Joy said. “I thought we needed that because the old sheriff wasn’t helpful to the new sheriff.”

Joy is not in favor of the director’s position continuing for another year.

“I’m not opposed to any of these people,” Joy said. “The people are doing good jobs, and I’m not saying there isn’t a need. I’m opposed to the growth of government.”

Schatz replied, “None of us are for big government, but we are for effective law enforcement, and that’s what the issue is.”

Towns in the western side of Hancock County do not have their own police departments, so they rely on the Sheriff’s Department, Schatz said.

Jennifer Osborn

Jennifer Osborn

Reporter and columnist at The Ellsworth American
News Reporter Jennifer Osborn covers news and features on the Blue Hill Peninsula and Deer Isle-Stonington. She welcomes tips and story ideas. She also writes the Gone Shopping column. Email Jennifer with your suggestions at [email protected] or call 667-2576.

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