The race for York County sheriff pits an incumbent with a long history of federal law enforcement management experience against a retired sergeant from the department who says he would be friendlier to the workforce and seek to boost morale and pay.

Sheriff William L. King Jr., 65, is a Democrat from Saco seeking re-election to a second four-year term. King’s 2014 general election win was uncontested after he beat out two challengers in a Democratic primary.

Challenging him is Roger B. Hicks, a 60-year-old Republican from Hollis who worked for years as a corrections officer, deputy and sergeant in the York County Sheriff’s Office before retiring in 2012. Since then, Hicks has served for three years as a selectman in his home town of Hollis in addition to holding a full-time private-sector job for Western Express, a trucking company, where he performs vehicle safety inspections.

King said he will continue to work to modernize the department, save taxpayer money through management tweaks and improve accountability among deputies.

If re-elected, King said, he hopes to introduce more community-focused programs and to better look after senior citizens and shut-ins.

“We’re solving crimes because of tips. We need to build upon that community engagement,” King said. “We have people, they want to be asked. They want us to ask them for help, and I think we should.”

MORALE AND FORCED OVERTIME

Hicks, meanwhile, has criticized King, and pledged to improve morale among sheriff’s deputies and corrections officers at the York County Jail in Alfred, where 20 open positions have led to forced overtime shifts. Hicks also vowed to advocate for staff more forcefully in contract negotiations, even though he would be sitting on the opposite side of the bargaining table.

“I’ve worked closely with the great men and women who work there and listen to the concerns of things going on,” Hicks said. “That’s why I’m running for sheriff, because I think it can be done better.”

Although the county is now offering a $1,500 sign-on bonus to entice new corrections applicants, both Hicks and King acknowledged the challenge of competing for workers in a strong economy against other employers such as Pratt & Whitney and the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, which pay higher starting wages without the added stress of working in a jail.

Hicks, who worked as a corrections officer before he became a deputy, said he understands the jail better than King because he’s worked there.

“We’re losing people at the jail at a faster rate than we can replace them,” Hicks said. “These men and women are overworked.”

Hicks pledged that he would work to persuade county commissioners, who set the sheriff’s budget, to increase base pay from $16.80 an hour at the jail and push to hire four more deputies. But like any sheriff, Hicks said, he would be at the mercy of the county’s finances.

Hicks also criticized the tense, sometimes adversarial relationship between King and the commissioners, who recently chided the sheriff for not filling them in on a proposed drug treatment plan at the jail.

“When you alienate the people who control the purse strings, thats not good,” Hicks said.

King said he has worked to manage the jail within its operating budget while also tightening security at the facility, which is located with the sheriff’s office on Layman Way. King acknowledged that his relationship with commissioners “could be better.”

But he cited state statute that has commissioners set the sheriff’s budget, but gives the sheriff operational control.

“It’s like I’m a baker, and they say, ‘Bake me a cake.’ OK. I need shortening, I need flour, I need oil and I need coconut,” King said. “(And they say) you can’t have the shortening, but we need that cake.”

King said he hopes to increase pay and incentives at the jail, but he is limited by the county’s resources and the budget process.

He also has worked to improve accountability among the deputies, he said.

“I think the deputies do fantastic work, but what I wanted to see is when they’re not assigned to a call, to be doing something, and I think the taxpayers deserve that,” King said. “If you’re not on a call, do some public relations. Do some community interaction. Because we have very engaged community members and I wanted to capitalize (on) that and enhance that.”

TENSIONS WITH DEPUTY UNION

Some of those changes have resulted in push-back among the rank and file, King acknowledged, and on Oct. 10, the union representing York deputies endorsed Hicks, who also won the support of the York County 911 operators union and South Berwick Police Chief Dana LaJoie, who ran and lost against King in the 2014 primary.

King has won the support of the chiefs of police in Kennebunk and York, former York County District Attorney Mark Lawrence and the current mayor of Biddeford, Alan Casavant.

Hicks said he has heard complaints from deputies about driving aging patrol vehicles, some of which do not have air conditioning, a sign of what Hicks called mismanagement.

“For me, when I become sheriff, I’m going to be driving the oldest car in the fleet,” Hicks said. “Because the people who work there are going to come first.”

King said he bears no ill will toward the deputies union and will continue to try to work with the union to solve problems. As for the endorsement of Hicks, King said he wasn’t surprised.

“He’s their buddy,” King said. “He sees them off duty and (socializes) with them and that’s fine. I’m not running to be their friend. I’m running for sheriff. And I work for the people.”

CONTRACT DEPUTY SYSTEM

Hicks and King both believe that the county’s system of contract deputies needs to be revamped. Contract deputies are paid by towns that don’t have their own police departments, but want their own dedicated deputy to patrol the area.

King said he wants to renegotiate the agreements so towns can buy hours of a deputy’s time, instead of locking a deputy into a geographic beat. That would allow King and other command staff to move resources around the county on shorter notice, adding flexibility.

Hicks said towns with contract deputies are already being shortchanged when deputies leave their assigned town to respond to other calls, masking the underlying need for more rural patrol deputies in general.

“I think the contracts are just filling a void right now and the towns are paying the bill for the current administration, because the contract town’s agreement is being violated,” Hicks said.

Matt Byrne can be contacted at 791-6303 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: MattByrnePPH

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