ALFRED — Folks who spoke up at a public hearing Wednesday on York County government’s proposal to open a detox and residential rehabilitation center were in favor of the concept,  but some of them — those representing municipalities — had questions about how it will be financed and urged prudence.

“I think it is a program that is desperately needed here and across the state,” said South Berwick Town Manager Perry Ellsworth. He said County Manager Greg Zinser’s recommendation  that the county initially contribute not more than $250,000 through  taxation a good move.

The county is proposing it use $200,000 in a reserve account to kickstart the $1.6 million proposal and further contribute through taxation. Zinser told about 75 people who attended the hearing that he would recommend that initially no more than $250,000 come from taxation so there wouldn’t be a significant impact on municipalities. As well, the county is hoping the Legislature will earmark some state funds for the project. He said the county’s contribution could be increased incrementally over a period of years and pointed out the county’s construction bond on York County Jail, which amounts to more than $1 million annually,  will be retired within the next few years. 

Layman Way Recovery Center  would be located on the grounds of the York County Jail, in a county-owned building currently leased by the state Department of Corrections for its southern Maine Re-entry Center. The state plans to soon move the re-entry program to the Maine Correctional Center in Windham.

The proposal is a collaboration between the county government — including the York County District Attorney’s Office — and York County Shelter Programs, Inc.

The center would include 12 detoxification beds, designed for a short-term, 2-5 day stays, said York County Shelter Programs Inc. Director Bob Dawber. The residential recovery portion, which would provide 12 beds each for men and women, is designed for 3-6 month stays.

It is designed to treat addicts who have been arrested and would otherwise be headed for jail to await trial. Referrals for addicts who have been arrested could be made by a bail commissioner  or a judge as a condition of bail. Individuals would be screened. The program would not serve violent or sexual offenders, those with a history of arson or those charged with trafficking scheduled drugs, according to the proposal.

Alfred resident George Dugovic pointed out the town’s Planning Board, of which he is a member, has approved the project.

“As a board we encourage this to move forward,” he said. “And personally, I am very much in favor of providing this service.”

Sanford City Councilor and York County Budget Committee member Joe Hanslip said he was speaking for himself when he endorsed the project, but added he would be advocating for it with city and budget committee officials when the time comes.

“It is needed, it’s well thought out and necessary,” said Hanslip.

Alfred Selectman Tony Palminteri said he believes the program is necessary, but wants the town of Alfred to be reimbursed for any ambulance runs to the facility and pointed out that currently, that isn’t the case for ambulance calls made to York County Jail. In 2016, he said, Alfred “took a $24,000 hit” — 1 percent of it municipal budget, for ambulance runs to the jail. County officials said they would look at that issue.

Saco City Administrator Kevin Sutherland commended the county for putting the proposal forward.

“I personally support this,” he said.

Kennebunkport Town Manager Lori Smith said she sees a need but urged financial prudence.

“I see it as a state and national problem,” she said. “I don’t see that the property tax is the only place these costs should be shared.”

“I’ve seen people turn their lives around, I was one of them,” said South Berwick resident Ian Silverman, who said he overcame his drug and alcohol habit 11 years ago. “I know there’s a need.”

Zinser said he will ask county commissioners for guidance on the project as the county’s budget process begins.

“We deal with opioid (abuse) on a daily and weekly basis,” said South Berwick Police Chief Dana Lajoie. He pointed out the lack of detox beds and other treatment in the county.

“We need a facility, we need beds, we need help,” Lajoie 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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