ALFRED — The elected sheriff of York County has filed a civil complaint against York County Commissioners, asserting they failed to follow state law when they voted to pay him less than the amount spelled out in the county budget.

Attorney Mark Dion filed the complaint on behalf of York County Sheriff Bill King at Cumberland County Superior Court earlier this week. He is asking the court to review the action of the commissioners and rule in favor of the sheriff.

The complaint alleges the five member York County Board of Commissioners failed to follow a state statute that prohibits the reduction of a county sheriff’s budgeted pay.

Dion, a former Cumberland County Sheriff who is now in his third term as member of the Maine House of Representatives, sponsored the bill that created the law.

The complaint points out that the 2014 budgeted salary for the sheriff was $93,537 ”“ and that King had ascertained that information prior to formally filing to run for sheriff.

King, who was elected in November and sworn in as sheriff Jan. 1, declined to comment on the suit. In a May 20 York County Commissioners meeting, however, he said he continued to receive the $78, 798 salary he received as chief deputy, rather than the salary spelled out in the budget, and asked commissioners to set his salary at the budgeted amount.

The statute cited by Dion, passed by the Legislature in 2011, says salaries for county sheriffs “must be set prior to the election of a new county sheriff by the board of county commissioners by final budget approval prior to the first date that applicants may file with the Secretary of State for the office of county sheriff.” The statute goes on to say that the salary of the county sheriff may not be reduced during the sheriff’s term, other than for malfeasance or other wrongdoing.

Dion, in a May interview, said he submitted the bill after hearing from Piscataquis County Sheriff John Goggin, whose salary was reduced by county commissioners there by $9,700 in 2010, before being restored.

“Its not the money,” said Dion Tuesday. “It’s the principle. (Commissioners) refused to abide by the law.”

The suit goes on to point out that on June 3, County Commissioner Marston Lovell moved to increase the salary to the amount spelled out in the budget, but the motion failed. County Commissioner Richard Dutremble moved for an $88,000 salary, which the board approved.

County Commission Chairwoman Sallie Chandler declined comment on the complaint, as did County Manager Greg Zinser, who said he had not yet reviewed it. As well, Zinser said while County Attorney Gene Libby is aware of the suit, he hadn’t seen it.

During County Commissioner meetings in May and June, Zinser pointed out that in December 2013, about a month before candidates for office could take out nomination papers, commissioners approved a pay scale for elected officials that included a range of $60,000 to $80,000 for sheriff. At a May 20 commissioners meeting, Zinser said the budgeted $93,537 figure was for the prior sheriff, and that the cited law is a matter of interpretation. Neither he nor commissioners spoke about the inclusion of the $95,890 figure they approved as the sheriff’s salary in the budget document for this year. The York County Budget Committee, which approves annual county budgets, declined to reduce the budget document.

York County Commissioner Michael Cote said at a June 3 meeting that the board set a salary range for sheriff and other county officials so salaries couldn’t be cut.

Dion on Tuesday recalled that when his 2011 bill was first proposed, Maine’s county commissioners had attempted to amend the law to include salary ranges, but that was rejected.

During a commissioners meeting on June 3, King said Zinser, during an earlier conversation about his salary, had offered him $96,000, provided King would agree to a merit-based salary, but the sheriff declined. Commissioners said that’s the first they’d heard of any merit-based possibility.

Civil complaints tend to be filed in the jurisdiction where the incident is alleged to have taken place. Dion said he filed the suit in nearby Cumberland County because the parties involved have a relationship to York County and that the public would see Cumberland County as a more neutral locale, “not that York County couldn’t be neutral,” Dion added.

Dion said King attempted to deal with the issue both publicly, in commissioners meetings, and privately prior to filing the complaint, to no avail. Dion said he received no response to a letter he sent July 7 to Zinser and Chandler, suggesting a meeting. Dion said he filed the complaint when he did to comply with legal deadlines.

“The door is always open,” to try and reach a resolution, Dion said.

— Senior Staff Writer Tammy Wells can be contacted at 324-4444 (local call in Sanford) or 282-1535, ext. 327 or [email protected]

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