BANGOR, Maine — The City Council will not endorse Gov. Paul LePage’s drug enforcement plan, despite a proposal from two city councilors to support it as part of a broader effort to address the city’s drug problem.
The City Council’s Government Operations Committee decided Monday not to support the governor’s plan because it relies heavily on enforcement and does not emphasize elements such as prevention, education and treatment.
“If we go ahead with any resolution that doesn’t include as a very major part … treatment, then we’re giving the wrong impression to the public that we’re in favor more of the war on drugs,” said Council Chairman Nelson Durgin.
Durgin added that his understanding of the governor’s proposal is that it would eliminate funding for drug treatment programs, relying more on arrests and imprisonment as a deterrent.
The governor’s office responded Tuesday, saying Durgin spoke incorrectly and funding for drug treatment would not be affected by increasing enforcement efforts.
“Drug treatment funding is not impacted by the governor’s proposal to fund more DEA agents, judges and prosecutors,” Peter Steele, the governor’s spokesman, sent in an email. “The governor has said repeatedly we need to increase enforcement and provide effective treatment.”
Steele said there has been a 40 percent increase in total substance abuse treatment funding from the state’s general fund since 2008.
“I think we can all agree around this table that we will not arrest our way way out of a drug problem, and if anything the county jail administrators are saying that their jails are full,” said Councilor Ben Sprague Monday night.
Councilors Pauline Civiello and Joe Baldacci, a lawyer and brother of former Gov. John Baldacci, both acknowledged enforcement could not be the only aspect of a drug prevention program.
Baldacci argued that increasing the number of district attorneys and judges as proposed by the governor could help reinstate Bangor’s defunct adult drug court, a special court that offers drug offenders judicially supervised substance abuse treatment, rehabilitation and other services.
“I’m supporting this because I think it helps get resources into the system,” he said. “I’m well aware that it is not the total answer, but I think we need to move all the answers forward as best we can.”
With an estimated cost of $8.1 million, the governor’s drug enforcement plan calls for four additional District Court judges, seven additional Maine Drug Enforcement Agency agents and four assistant attorneys general.
It calls for 22 additional district attorneys to ensure cases are prosecuted more quickly.
Rather than support that plan, the committee decided to ask city staff to prepare a one-page document the committee will consider at its next meeting. The document would express the city’s position is in alignment with a report authorized by the council regarding drug prevention in Bangor.
Bangor public health director Patty Hamilton, who helped write the report, completed in November, said it calls for a comprehensive approach to addressing Bangor’s drug problem.
The report includes comments from 26 stakeholders, including schools, police, service providers and health care providers, Hamilton said.
Follow Evan Belanger on Twitter at @evanbelanger.