Citizens offer input on spending county’s opiate settlement money

Fri, 02/09/2024 - 8:45am

    In 2022, Lincoln County received the first payment in the national opiate lawsuit against major distributors which will continue for 18 years. Lincoln County is placing current and future payments into a special reserve account until deciding how to spend lawsuit proceeds. 

    On Feb. 6, a group of local citizens offered assistance in directing those monies. Healthy Lincoln County, Addiction Resource Center and Lincoln County Recovery Community Center representatives, along with a few other concerned citizens, approached the commissioners. One was Peter Bruune of Damariscotta. He told commissioners his reason behind advocating against opiate addiction. “I’m speaking as somebody who’s been affected. My daughter died of an overdose 10 years ago. Subsequently, I organize and work with the community wherever I am educating the public about opiate addiction,” he said. “We want to help you, as commissioners, decide how to use the settlement money.” 

    Will Matteson is Healthy Lincoln County’s substance use coordinator. He told commissioners the group wanted to learn more about how settlement funds were distributed. “We are not here to push any particular agenda,” he said. “We’re here to advocate for people impacted by the opiate crisis and make sure to amplify the voices of people in recovery, family members and getting all those voices at the table.” 

    County Administrator Carrie Kipfer explained Lincoln County was part of national lawsuit against the major opiate distributors, and over the next two decades will receive annual payments. “We’re looking at starting a partnership with a mental health provider and rolling it into a program with a program with a mental health liaison working with the sheriff’s office,” she said. “That’s our first step. Historically, we been supportive of the Addiction Resource Center, and we are open to other ideas and many voices.”

    One way the county won’t use lawsuit proceeds is through more law enforcement. Sheriff Todd Brackett said “I want to make clear I have no interest using any opiate settlement funds for enforcement. We have enough enforcement functions,” he said. The sheriff’s department is currently working with Nick Loscocco who is a Maine Options (Overdose Prevention Through Intensive Outreach Naloxone and Safety) liaison employed by Sweetser. Maine Options is a state program created in 2020 to combat rising fatal drug overdoses. Maine Options provides a mobile response team in every county promoting drug prevention.

    County officials will contact the local residents about future planning meetings regarding the spending opiate settlement dollars.

    In other news, Brackett sought two sheriff department payment authorizations. Commissioners unanimously approved both. The first request was $3,075 for Lexipol online training. This is an online program meeting in-service training requirements. The second was $3,310.16 for department training ammunition allotment. Brackett also announced personnel changes. He reported Deputy Owen Beatty’s resignation. Beatty is from Vermont and worked for the sheriff’s department for two years. Beatty is joining the Brunswick Police Department. “They have a tactical force, and we don’t. That is one of his career goals,” Brackett said. “Also, his parents are moving to southern Maine and he is moving there to be closer to his parents and brothers who already moved to southern Maine.”

    Beatty’s departure in the patrol division leaves a vacancy. Brackett recommended Justin Blake, who works in the transport division, to replace Beatty. “Justin previously worked in patrol. So, this needs commissioner approval because a pay raise is involved,” he said.

    Commissioners approved two new 911 emergency dispatchers. Director Tara Doe recommended Sabrina Poulin as a part-time dispatcher and Trevor Whitney for a full-time position. 

    For the past five years, Lincoln County Region Planning Commission has hired a summer intern from the Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center. This year, a second may be added. Commissioners approved a second intern to work on a special project. Kipfer and and Lincoln County Region Planning Commission Executive Director Emily Rabbe support hiring a second intern to work on right-of-way mapping. Last fall during a local road summit with the MDOT, county and municipal officals, Kipfer learned of MDOT using summer interns to map rights-of-way. “I thought this is something the county could do,” Kipfer said. “Money may be available by asking participating towns to pitch-in. Also, there is a vacancy in the planning office so money may be available there.”

    County Treasurer Michelle Richardson will temporarily assist Two Bridges Regional Jail Authority for a few weeks. Commissioners approved loaning her out to the authority while they search for a new Two Bridges accounting manager. “Two Bridges and their accounting manager have parted ways. So, Michelle has reviewed their process and identified ways to make operations more efficient,” Kipfer said. “So, we have offered a fee for service for Michelle’s time until the end of February.”

    Commissioners authorized a $17,400 payment to Steele Landscaping of Wiscasset for plowing the courthouse campus and Lincoln County Region Planning Commission parking lots. Kipfer reported this the final year of a three-year contract with Steele.

    Commissioners meet next at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 13 in the courthouse.