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Sheriff hopes part-timers will offset mandatory wage increase

CARIBOU, Maine — The County Commissioners and Sheriff’s Department are among many groups in Maine having discussions about Question 4, an initiative to raise the minimum wage, passing in early November.

County Commissioners discuss inevitable wage increases in the Sheriff's Department during their Nov. 16, 2016 meeting in Caribou's Emergency Management Agency building. From left, around the table, Presque Isle Commissioner Paul Underwood, Houlton Commissioner Paul Adams, County Administrator Douglas Beaulieu, and Wallagrass Commissioner Norman Fournier. Christopher Bouchard | Aroostook Republican)

County Commissioners discuss inevitable wage increases in the Sheriff’s Department during their Nov. 16, 2016 meeting in Caribou’s Emergency Management Agency building. From left, around the table, Presque Isle Commissioner Paul Underwood, Houlton Commissioner Paul Adams, County Administrator Douglas Beaulieu, and Wallagrass Commissioner Norman Fournier. Christopher Bouchard | Aroostook Republican)

While the eventual boost to minimum wage is going to affect businesses throughout the state, it will also impact a number of municipal employees, including part-time staff in the Aroostook Sheriff’s department.

Aroostook County Sheriff Darrell Crandall, during a Nov. 16 County Commissioners meeting, began a conversation about how to increase minimum wages while minimizing any major budget increases.

“We didn’t have any proposals on the table during our budget session and, as you know, one of the citizen initiatives will force the County’s hand in some regard as it pertains to minimum wage, unless there’s some suggestion I’m not aware of,” Crandall said. “My suggestion is to just keep it simple and add three dollars to each employee category.”

The Sheriff said there would be four employee categories: one for brand new workers, and then three more for people who have worked for two, four, and six years. In an effort to simplify the inevitable wage increase process, he proposed adding three dollars to each category.

“I’m not necessarily married to this idea,” Crandall said, “but I do believe we should be doing something sooner rather than later.”

The Sheriff also proposed consolidating two similar salary structures within the Sheriff’s department. The first includes part-time deputy sheriffs, part-time corrections officers, and part-time dispatchers. The second category includes part-time cooks and part-time transport aids.

“There’s very little difference between these two categories,” the Sheriff said. “For the sake of simplicity, I would move to put those two in the same proposal instead of having two categories with a difference of eight cents per hour.”

Commissioner Norman Fournier, of Wallagrass, while mostly supportive of this plan, had some questions about Crandall’s proposal.

“What are the financial implications if you were to approve this?” Fournier asked. “I totally agree with what you’re saying but, based on our financial situation, I have some major reservations of doing anything right now.”

The Commissioner then asked what the net effect of providing a three dollar raise will be on the Sheriff’s budget.

While the Sheriff could not offer a precise budget estimate, he said the budget could be leveled out by utilizing more part-time staffers and reducing overtime.

Fournier said he still supports the concept, but would like to see a “best guess” in the future, as he is concerned that the “reserves are gone.”

“If you look at overtime numbers for the jail,” Crandall said. “We’re paying $30 an hour for those shifts when we could be paying $13. I’m not sure I could get you what you’re looking for but I can try.”

The County Commissioners moved to table this subject and discuss it further during their next meeting on Dec. 21, at 1 p.m. in the Sheriff’s Office conference room in Houlton.

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