A proposal to outfit deputies with body-worn cameras raised questions from one budget committee member about whether the Androscoggin County Sherriff’s Office was moving too quickly into the technology.
(TNS) -- AUBURN — The Androscoggin County Budget Committee reviewed the five-year capital improvement plan Wednesday with one member questioning the sheriff's plan to buy body cameras for all of his officers.
Future capital projects were among the items reviewed in the 2018 budget. The panel made one cut of $2,500 during Wednesday's two-hour meeting. Budget Committee members have one more meeting planned before finalizing the document for a public hearing.
The brief discussion on body cams came near the end of the session. The $125,000 expense, which would be budgeted at $25,000 for five years, also includes replacing all cameras installed in patrol cars. Those cameras are at least two years past their life expectancy, Sheriff Eric Samson said.
The price includes a server with enough capacity to handle the digital images and videos.
Budget Committee member Andrew Titus of Auburn expressed concern about the proposed purchase. Not only did the price tag give him pause, but Titus wondered whether the county was jumping too quickly into the new technology of equipping officers with body cams.
"Should we even be doing that?" he asked.
Only a few police departments in Maine have body cameras.
Titus promised to bring up the issue in more detail at the next meeting when the committee is scheduled to discuss the sheriff's budget.
No other member of the panel spoke for or against or expressed any concern about body cams, so it is unclear whether the proposal will survive the Budget Commitee's knife.
Much of the meeting centered on Western Maine Transportation Services seeking funding, but its $42,500 request was denied for the second consecutive year.
The transportation agency, which receives money from Franklin and Oxford counties, provided more than 337,000 miles of service to riders in Androscoggin County in 2016, according to Craig Zurhorst, WMTS community relations director.
Even though they recognized the importance of the service, several members felt the county should not be funding the agency if the towns they represent have already rejected WMTS' overtures for funding.
Titus and Shane Bouchard of Lewiston also didn't think it was fair for taxpayers in the Twin Cities to pay bus transportation for the smaller communities in the county when Lewiston and Auburn already fund a bus service.
Norman Beauparlant of Poland attempted a compromise expenditure of $10,000, but the motion was defeated 3-9, with Beauparlant and Lisbon's Mark Lunt and Allen Ward voting yes.
The board encouraged Zurhorst to approach each community for funding. If more towns said yes, the panel might be more receptive to providing some funds, Chairman Michael Lachance said.
The lone account cut was employee benefits. The panel cut $2,500 from the unemployment compensation line that had stood at $10,000. Little money has been spent from the account the past two years.
The Budget Committee's next meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 18, on the second floor of the county building.
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