Media Archive

County budget cut by committee

Article from The Piscataquis Observer, Vol. 165, No. 43, October 22, 2003

By Jessica Lee
Staff Writer

Cuts to salaries, contingency recommended

DOVER-FOXCROFT Taking a cue from Augusta, the Piscataquis County Budget Committee will not go along with budgeted salary Increases for non-union and elected officials.

The committee agreed Monday to phase in the proposed increases over a three-year period. The 2004 county budget, as proposed, included a 10 percent wage increase for elected and appointed officials, as well as an increase for non-union employees that brings the base wage from $6.82 per hour to $8.50.

The committee is recommending a 3.3 percent increase for elected and appointed officials, and a base wage next year of$7.38 per hour.

"I move we recommend that the anticipated increase be spread over a three-year period," said Roy Bither, a committee member from Milo, noting the uncertainty of the state's financial future and "the uncertainty that my town can afford" any county budget increase.

Michael Kazmierczak of Sangerville suggested that the county phase the salary increase in, much as Gov. John Baldacci is recommending the state phase the educational funding increase up for a referendum vote in November over a five-year period.

The 2004 preliminary budget, as presented by the department heads and county commissioners two weeks ago, is up roughly 16 percent from last year. Expenditures are set at $3.7 million, up from $3.2 million in 2003, while revenues are increasing from $998,477 to $1.13 million.

The overall effect on taxpayers appeared too much to take for county budget committee members, many of whom noted that towns are currently struggling to make ends meet in tough economic times.

"I don't see how we can justify going up in salaries more than double the cost of living allowance," Bither said. "That's a big bite," summed up Dennis Green of Brownville.

Bither noted that Milo employees saw no cost of living increase in the previous budget cycle, due to the struggling economy.

The committee voted unanimously to support a three-year phasing in of all proposed salary increases. Bither said he also would like an explanation regarding the two new positions proposed - one corrections officer in the jail, one dispatcher in telecommunications. He asked that department heads be present at the next committee meeting, Oct. 27, to explain the need for the two new jobs.

"If we agree there is a need, why not go into this one at a time?" he asked. "It's nothing personal; I'm just a tight old man - tight on money. I want to be considerate."

Chairwoman Janice McAllister agreed that there is a need for some explanation, and suggested that Sheriff John Goggin and other affected department heads attend the next meeting.

The committee also questioned the need for a $100,000 contingency this year, when there hadn't been any budgeted in prior years. The commissioners proposed budgeting the contingency this year for the first time, as outlined in a new state law.

Committee members unanimously agreed to recommend a $50,000 contingency - half that proposed - after some discussion with Deputy Clerk Cathy Goodine about conditions in the courthouse that may need work next year.

Goodine said the brick wall on the eastern side of the courthouse building is leaking, and the roof on that side should be replaced. She said there may be additional costs incurred by the county to bring the courthouse and the annex in compliance with current federal requirements for handicapped-accessibility.

A recent study conducted on the two buildings for the state court administrator cites nearly $90,000 of needed improvements.

Roland Holt of Dover-Foxcroft reminded the group that any increase to the county budget will be passed onto the towns. "What happens if we don't recommend any budget?" he asked hypothetically.

Bither explained that the commissioners would act on the budget - which then goes onto the state legislature for final approval and any modifications.

The committee then went through the budget by departments, agreeing to recommend most with changes to the salary and benefits.

Green asked that representatives from Piscataquis County Economic Development Council and the Eastern Maine Development Corp. come to a future meeting to discuss their requests with the committee.

EMDC is seeking just over $6,000, while PCEDC is requesting $75,000. Kazmierczak noted that last year PCEDC requested $75,000 an increase of $35,000 from previous years, due to a lack of state funding sources expected. He said the budget committee last year approved that funding increase, given the economic development group seek out additional resources in the coming year. "Last year they said it would be a one-time only increase," he said.

Holt said he is concerned because he has not seen many jobs coming to the county in the past year. "I've been working a lot with them," said Green. "I think they need to come in and defend their budgets." McAllister agreed to ask the two organizations to give presentations at a future meeting.

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