County commissioners ponder leaving state association

Stuart Hedstrom, Piscataquis Observer • November 6, 2019

DOVER-FOXCROFT — Citing what they feel is a non-proportional expense and lack of benefits, the Piscataquis County Commissioners are considering ending membership in the Maine County Commissioners Association. The commissioners discussed the possibility during a Nov. 5 meeting and plan to attend a meeting with officials from other Maine counties also pondering an exit to learn more.

According to its website at https://www.mainecounties.org/, the Maine County Commissioners Association was founded in 1890. The vision statement says state county governments are a well-respected network of regional governments that have the authority to recognize and solve regional issues. The Maine County Commissioners Association provides relevant (vital) services to citizens in a responsive, efficient, credible manner. The organization mission statement says it works to make this vision a reality through communication and cooperation by and among ​all departments of all counties.

“One bit of angst I have is we’re charged the same membership fee as Cumberland (County),” Commissioner Jim Annis said. He said the per capita expenses are unfair.

“We’re paying 62 cents per person in the county and they’re paying 6 cents,” Commissioner Wayne Erkkinen said about annual dues based on respective populations of 16,000-plus and near 294,000 in Piscataquis and Cumberland counties.

Annis said the Maine County Commissioners Association executive committee makes a number of decisions for the organization, and Piscataquis County is not represented on this sub-group. He said the group’s lobbying of the Legislature may not necessarily always be in the interests of Piscataquis County.

White asked about the pros and cons of leaving and Erkkinen said while the county would save on membership dues, the county would no longer be part of the Maine County Commissioners Association insurance pool and would have to go alone for coverages.

“Right now I’m talking to a couple of insurance companies but I have not gotten any dollar amounts yet,” County Manager Michael Williams said. He said a 60-day notice is required to withdraw from the Maine County Commissioners Association.

“If we are going to go that route I want to make sure we have all our insurances laid out,” he said. The county manager said Franklin County exited the association and he would check with the western Maine county administrators about how they are handling insurance coverage and other services shared with the state, such as the registry of deeds.

“At this point a third of the association is looking to pull out,” Erkkinen said. He said officials from these counties will be meeting on the morning of Friday, Nov. 8 in Augusta and he planned to attend.

“What I’m hearing is that we need more information on the assurances and need to go to the meeting on Friday morning,” Commissioners Chair James White said. He said an item on the future of membership in the Maine County Commissioners Association could be on the Nov. 19 meeting agenda.

In other business Williams said, “The budget committee’s meetings are moving along.” He said this week’s session will include presentations on grant requests and next week’s meeting will feature a presentation from the district attorney’s office.

“We had a good meeting with the budget committee, they asked some good questions and it was very productive,” Sheriff Bob Young said.

A public hearing on the county and unorganized territory budgets is scheduled for the evening of Monday, Nov. 25. The commissioners are scheduled to give their approval to the spending plans during a meeting next month.

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