Articles

Androscoggin County, Maine, Approves Body Cameras Amid Controversy

Despite finding a place in the county's 2018 budget, one commissioner cited concern that the technology is too new and controversial.

by Steve Sherlock, Sun Journal / October 19, 2017
David Kidd/Government Technology

(TNS) -- AUBURN — The Androscoggin County Sheriff's Office still has its body cameras in the 2018 budget and Probate Judge Michael Dubois got the raise he was seeking.

All that is left is for the Androscoggin County Commission to ratify the budget following a public hearing next month.

The Budget Committee completed its work on the 2018 Androscoggin County budget Wednesday, approving $20,746 in cuts in the $13.6 million budget.

As proposed, the county tax levy in the 14 municipalities will rise by roughly 6 percent.

The rate of increase was not palatable for some committee members, especially on top of last year's 6.44 percent increase.

"I appreciate the hard work by the commissioners," Andrew Titus of Auburn said. "I want people to understand that when I'm budget conscious, it's not because I don't think you guys are doing a good job, but I have a responsibility to Auburn, which is not to pass them another 6 percent increase."

Titus did his best to find budget lines to cut and had a few successes. But he failed in his attempt to cut the entire amount appropriated to replace the cameras in the patrol vehicles, add body cameras for his officers and purchase a server large enough to handle the digital photos and videos from those cameras.

The total cost of $125,000 was to be budgeted at $25,000 over five years. Sheriff Eric Samson explained that the vehicle cameras were outdated, with the current system not working on three cars.

Looking to either cancel the entire program or at least delay its implementation for a year, Titus sought to cut the $25,000. He said that body cams are still too controversial for the county to be ahead of the curve on having the technology.

But Samson countered that Titus was opposing the purchase as a matter of policy instead of a budget concern. Policy is the purview of the commissioners and not the Budget Committee, Samson said. And the commissioners had already approved the purchase of body cams.

The vast majority of the Budget Committee also thought the addition of body cameras was a good idea, voting 2-9 to reject Titus' motion. Budget Committee Chairman Michael Lachance of Lewiston joined Titus in supporting the cut.

The panel did adjust the cut it made to salaries for Probate Court. After initially cutting more than $7,400 in salaries, the board changed the cut to $6,500. With the department replacing a longtime clerk with a new hire, the county has enough money to give Judge Dubois the $10,000 raise he was seeking for his increased workload for several evidentiary hearings and floating court dates.

The Budget Committee cut $1,800 from the Civil Process Division and $1,600 from communications.

"We don't want to cut budgets, but we've got no choice," Titus said. "We can't sustain this year after year. I understand we need stuff, and we want to grow. I also need to have you understand that we can't spend this year after year, whatever the reason is."

County Administrator Larry Post said he agreed with Titus that the budget increase was unacceptable to him, but he defended the increase.

"It's all about providing the services that citizens ask of us and demand of us," Post said. "We have to provide those in such a way that we have to do it as frugally as we can. We also have to do it in an excellent manner. Sometimes I've seen places where they become so frugal that they're not providing the services, and the whole thing just doesn't work."

Unlike past years, with no lawsuits threatening to tear apart the civility of the two groups, Wednesday's meeting completed one of the most cooperative budget processes between the county and the municipalities in a few years. Lachance seized on the feel-good atmosphere.

"I hope commissioners will take it upon themselves, in a gesture of goodwill, and set a precedent and honor the budget submitted by the Budget Committee," Lachance said. "We're at a point now that it's important this relationship between the municipalities and the county move in a positive direction."

The county will hold a public hearing on the budget at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 1, at the county courthouse.

©2017 the Sun Journal (Lewiston, Maine) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.