SKOWHEGAN — A new security guard at the Somerset County courthouse and a new dispatcher at the communications center have added to what otherwise is a flat-funded budget for the coming year, officials said Friday.

The county Budget Committee gave its blessing Thursday night to a spending package for the coming year of $12,340,408, up 1.6 percent from the budget approved by county commissioners at this time last year. The final figure includes a 1 percent overlay for unexpected shortfalls in property tax revenue, bringing the total to $12,534,097.

The budget breaks down like this:

• $4,863,215 for operations at the Somerset County Jail.

• $2,188,978 for debt service on the construction of the jail.

• $5,372,614 for general county spending.

The tax rate charged to county towns is $2.43 for every $1,000 in assessed property value, spread across all of the towns and plantations in Somerset County.

Patrick Dolan, the county finance manager, said the overall increase of $202,689 includes adding labor and benefits for an additional dispatcher at the Somerset County Regional Communications Center in Skowhegan and a security position at the county building, which includes Superior Court, the district attorney’s office, probate offices, administrative offices and the Registry of Deeds.

“We’ve had more and more security instances at the courthouse — threatening calls and visits related to the probate court,” Dolan said. “Unfortunately, it is a public building, so we have anybody and everybody just walking into the building.”

Somerset County Deputy Mike Cray, of Palmyra, who came out of retirement, took over April 1 as the security guard at the courthouse. He sits at a desk in the corridor at the entrance to the building on High Street and has all visitors, including lawyers handling criminal cases upstairs in court, sign in on a clipboard sheet. The doors to the building at the top of the granite steps across from the old jail on Court Street no longer are in use.

Somerset County Administrator Dawn DiBlasi said she is happy with the proposed budget, having run a bare-bones spending program for the past few years. She said the new dispatcher fills a gap in service for emergency calls and the security guard is a welcome addition to the courthouse.

“We needed it down here,” she said of having a security guard for problems at the probate and district attorney offices. “The sheriff kept blowing his overtime budget by having to send a man down here.”

DiBlasi said Somerset’s was one of the few courthouses left in Maine without a courthouse security guard. Meanwhile, she said, things are getting “more and more volatile” in courthouses across the state. She said people have wandered into her office from the district attorney’s office, often angry about the results of decisions or proceedings in court.

“It’s been difficult for me to get them out of here,” she said.

The cost of the building security officer, including equipment and benefits, is $92,671; but the state is contributing $14,185, so the final number is $78,484, DiBlasi said. She said the guard is also on duty when the judge is present and court is in session.

As for the dispatcher, the communications center was taking so many calls from both Somerset and Kennebec counties, that a 15th one, including two supervisors, was needed. Only three dispatchers were on call for any shift taking in about 225 calls a day.

“We were concerned that somebody’s 911 call may not get through. What are you going to do when you’ve got three guys on the phone and somebody’s trying to get through?” DiBlasi said. “So for safety reasons, we thought it made sense, based on the statistics, the ratio of calls to people and the amount of calls.”

The cost of the position is about $66,000, including wages and benefits.

The county budget meeting and public hearing is scheduled for 6 p.m. May 16 in Superior Court on the second floor of the county building. The county commissioners will meet after the hearing. If commissioners agree with the Budget Committee’s budget, they will vote it in as the final budget. If they disagree, the package — with commissioners’ changes — goes back to the Budget Committee for a final vote.

If the Budget Committee cannot muster a two-thirds majority to put its approved budget into effect for the new fiscal year, the commissioners’ budget takes effect on July 1.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]


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