AUGUSTA — Kennebec County’s role in the regionalization of services has emerged as a top issue for the three Democrats vying for their party’s nomination in this month’s primary for the District 1 commissioner’s seat.

Patsy Crockett, Patrick Paradis and Carl Pease have been putting up signs and knocking on the doors of Democrats in Augusta, Chelsea, China, Manchester, Sidney, Vassalboro and Windsor, seeking support to win the June 14 primary and face Republican Kristin Clark, of Augusta, in November.

“I’ve been working with the counties for 11 years,” said former state legislator Patsy Crockett, who is holding the county commissioner seat now by appointment. She also worked as a lobbyist on issues involving the county sheriffs. “They are so underutilized.”

Every governor, Crockett said, wants some sort of regionalization. “We have it with 16 counties,” she said. “We could operate some of the things done (by county commissions) in other parts of the country and save the taxpayers some money.”

Crockett, 75, was appointed to fill the vacant District 1 commission seat earlier this year. Paradis and Pease also submitted their names for consideration to the county Democratic Party, which recommended Crockett and Paradis to Gov. Paul LePage for consideration to fill the seat left vacant by the death of Beverly Daggett.

The 2016 budget, passed at the end of May, is $11.5 million, up 3.6 percent from a year ago. The term of a county commissioner is four years and starting pay is $10,400 a year.

This is the first time in many years that a commissioner’s race has been contested. The three candidates said they have found that most voters understand that the bulk of the county’s budget supports the Kennebec County jail.

When she was in the Legislature, Crockett sponsored a bill that would consolidate jails in the state; and by her estimate, it would save taxpayers about $8 million. While the bill passed, other factors came into play: LePage didn’t appoint board members, and the Legislature didn’t fund the initiative. Even so, she said, counties can take a look at what they could do together.

“I hope if I am elected and continue in this position that I would be able to work more on that,” she said.

In addition to her work in elected office and association management, Crockett has served on a wide variety of boards and worked in the private sector.

Paradis, a former Kennebec County treasurer and state legislator who is wrapping up his final term on the Augusta City Council, takes a different tack.

“We have mutual aid,” said Paradis, 62, referring to agreements that municipalities make with each other, primarily for fire protection. “We don’t call it regionalization.”

There might be a role for county government to play on individual issues, but towns can and have negotiated their own regionalization. Augusta allows access to its landfill by agreements with other municipalities that need someplace for their residents to send their household trash, he said.

“I wouldn’t see the county forcing it on anyone, but maybe the county could act as a facilitator,” he said, noting that he has not heard much concern about it while campaigning. “When you can, I would vote in favor.”

During his time in the Legislature, Paradis served in leadership positions, including assistant majority leader and majority whip. He also has patrolled as a deputy with the Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office.

Pease, 62, who has a master’s degree in public administration, has followed the issue over time in the state.

“Counties can do anything for a town that a town doesn’t want to do,” he said. “People are talking in other places about fire department consolidation. I think they should first explore doing it through an existing form of government rather than create a whole new structure or layer of bureaucracy.”

The key, he said, is having people at the county level who are willing to discuss it.

“I’ve never been a fan of top-down pressure to consolidate,” Pease said. “But once they are in that space, there have to be places they can go and have options, and not have to create the wheel from scratch.”

Pease was town manager in Windsor for three years. He also has worked as a professional parliamentarian.

The candidates said a number of voters they have spoken with are not familiar with county commissioners and their duties. Generally, county commissioners are responsible for the fiscal operations and policy decisions of county government. Jails, probate, deeds and prosecuting attorneys fall under the county government umbrella, as do emergency management and public safety.

The candidates agree that the role of a county commissioner is to ensure the county’s budget is spent effectively and efficiently.

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

[email protected]

Twitter: @JLowellKJ


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