MADISON — Selectmen told Somerset County Sheriff Dale Lancaster on Monday that they remain concerned that the Madison division of the sheriff’s office isn’t properly staffed in light of an ongoing shortage of deputies.

Residents have expressed concerns in recent months about the number of deputies that are assigned to patrol and respond to calls in Madison, according to Town Manager Denise Ducharme, who has been on the job for three months.

Somerset County Sheriff Dale Lancaster Morning Sentinel file photo

“There were a lot of people that were concerned about how much we’re paying and if we are getting our money’s worth,” Ducharme said.

The five selectmen had already agreed at a Nov. 13 meeting that reestablishing the town’s municipal police force, which was disbanded in 2015, was out of the question given the large cost it would require.

There are three shifts in Madison and one deputy on duty for each one, Lancaster told selectmen. There’s also one part-time administrative assistant supporting the division. In the current fiscal year, the town will pay $589,500 to the county for that coverage, according to Ducharme.

In 2015, when the town and the county first entered the arrangement, Madison paid $480,728 for five full-time deputies and a part-time assistant dedicated solely to the town.


The coverage provided by the sheriff’s office has changed over the years, depending on the terms of the contract between the town and the county. The main factor contributing to those changes has been staffing, according to Lancaster.

Like many law enforcement agencies in Maine, and across the country, the Somerset County Sheriff’s Office has been struggling to hire and retain deputies, Lancaster and Chief Deputy Mike Mitchell told selectmen.

“Right now it’s not a vocation that people are pining to go after,” Lancaster said.

He said he now only has about 50% of the deputies he needs and has the budget for. “We’re almost in a crisis mode,” Lancaster said.

That means shifts in Madison may go unfilled, or a deputy assigned to Madison may need to respond to a call elsewhere.

In those instances when no deputy is available to patrol Madison, the county returns to the town what it paid for that shift, Lancaster explained. Since 2016, those reimbursements total approximately $463,000, according to the sheriff.


Many other agencies in the state face similar staffing problems. For instance, Maine State Police have about 50 open positions, Lancaster said. The Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office is in much better shape, with a spokesman for the office, Lt. Chris Read, saying Tuesday that it’s nearly at full staff.

Unlike other law enforcement agencies in the state, Somerset County does not offer hiring bonuses to attract new deputies, Lancaster said. The starting pay in Somerset County for a deputy ranges from $28 to $36 per hour, depending on prior experience, which Lancaster said is on par with other agencies in Maine.

Compounding the issue are strict training requirements that must be followed to maintain accreditation, Lancaster said. As an example, the sheriff told selectmen he has conditionally hired three deputies, but they must first complete their training before they can patrol on their own. That training will not be done until June.

Selectmen asked Lancaster if establishing a neighborhood watch program run by volunteers was possible to address the lack of law enforcement officers. A group of residents had previously expressed interest in starting the program, select board Chairman Albert Veneziano said.

Lancaster said the proposal is a possibility but told the board, “You leave yourself open to a level of a liability.”

Selectmen also asked if the sheriff’s office would be able to fill a school resource officer position that the town previously funded.


“What does Madison want? We’ll try to accommodate that the best that we can,” Lancaster answered. “If you want an SRO, we can build that into the budget.”

The back-and-forth between town and county officials is nothing new, according to Somerset County Administrator Tim Curtis, who was Madison’s town manager from 2015 until earlier this year.

“These conversations have been going around in one way or the other since 2015,” Curtis said.

The town disbanded its municipal police department as a cost-saving measure, he said.

At the time, the town lost roughly 60% of its tax base due to the decline and eventual closing of Madison Paper Industries, according to Curtis.

Since then, Madison has counted on the sheriff’s office to provide law enforcement coverage across the town’s 54 square miles.

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