Media Archive

County budget proposal draws mixed reaction

Article from The Piscataquis Observer, Vol. 165, No. 48, November 26, 2003

By Jessica Lee
Staff Writer

DOVER-FOXCROFT About 35 people attended the hearing on the 2004 Piscataquis County budget in the Piscataquis County Superior Courtroom, and opinions were about as varied.

The $3.7 million spending plan was critiqued as excessive by some who want the county to spend less to lower the tax burden on property owners and businesses.

Others agreed that the expenditures, amounting to a 15 percent hike over last year's spending, were warranted, in order to retain the county's capable employees and keep competitive in economic development initiatives.

As proposed, the budget includes two new positions: a dispatcher in telecommunications and a corrections officer in the Jail. It also gives non-union employees a base-wage increase from $6.82 to $8.50 an hour, and elected/appointed
officials a 10 percent raise. Other increases are found in health insurance, and the setting aside $100,000 in contingency for county buildings.

Elaine Roberts, administrative assistant in the district attorney's office, spoke in favor of the wage increase for all employees to bring the county employees in line with local municipalities. She did not agree with the recommendation from the Piscataquis County Budget Committee to spread those wage increases over a three-year period.

"We feel the county commissioners should stick to the base rate of $8.50 an hour," she said. "It is my opinion, if that increase is spread over a three-year period, we'd still be lagging behind."

Roberts urged the commissioners to pay county employees a "respectable wage."

Jim Gustafson, a selectman from Bowerbank, asked the commissioners to spend less, in order to put less burden on taxpayers.

"I was stunned by the cost increase," he said. "It seemed expansive."

Gustafson said he polled several counties in the vicinity, including Aroostook, Somerset and Penobscot, and found "none of them are budgeting for a double-digit increase" in 2004.

He reminded the commissioners that higher tax rates "destroy jobs ... and depresses our economy fuller."

Janice McAllister, chair of the budget committee, agreed. She noted that the November referendum elections proved "the people of Maine are saying loud and clear we are overtaxed and we need to take a hard look at every budget."

Former Guilford Town Manager Bob Littlefield expressed concerns about the eventual impact of ever-increasing taxes on those local industries and businesses that are still operating.

"At present, we have three good industries in Guilford. Anytime costs rise, we come that much closer to losing one or all of those industries," he warned. "I think we have to pull in the belt ... or we won't have anything."

Mark Scarano, executive director of Piscataquis County Economic Development Corp., agreed that taxes are "a big issue in our state," and noted that the global economy continues to threaten Maine. He did thank the commissioners for their support in PCEDC's funding $75,000 is budgeted for the organization for 2004.

Sophie Wilson, who identified herself as town manager in Brownville and a resident of Dover-Foxcroft, stressed that Piscataquis County is different from many counties, in that the regionalization of services is a priority. She pointed out that the county budget pays for one economic development director, while many counties have no cost, because many towns and cities include that position in their budgets.

Wilson stressed the importance of moving the dispatch services completely from the jail, as recommended by the budget committee, for the safety of those dispatchers as well as public safety officials on the streets.

"I can't advocate for major cuts," she said.

Dennis Green, a selectman in Brownville and a member of the county budget committee, supported the county's funding of economic development initatives. He said he was laid off a year ago from Great Northern Paper Co., and noted that the federal government is now spending $30 million to put those affected by the mill's closure through schooling.

Compared to that, he said, "I think we're making a very small investment."

John Goggin, county sheriff, said he is supportive of the budget as proposed. "I really think the tax dollars raised in Piscataquis County are well thought out and spent. I don't see a lot of waste," he said.

About an hour later. County Commissioner Chairman Eben Dewitt closed the hearing. "I think the commissioners have their work cut out for them," he said.

Commissioners will meet at least once to discuss and make any alterations to the budget, which must be adopted by Dec. 31.

NOTE - This article reflects the views of the author and not necessarily those of the TRC Alliance Team.