Media Archive

Advisory committee trims down 2003 county budget

Article from The Piscataquis Observer, Vol. 164, No. 46, November 13, 2002

By Jessica Lee
Staff Writer

Panel OKs additional PCEDC funding

DOVER-FOXCROFT – Despite some reservations to increase the county tax burden, the budget advisory committee last week supported a $35,000 increase in the budget to continue regional economic development efforts.

The Piscataquis County Economic Development Council requested $75,000 from the county, up from the previous two year's $40,000, to offset a decline in state marketing funds. The committee, however, did not support an additional $29,000 request for a related economic development effort, Piscataquis Properties Inc., which hopes to build three speculative buildings in the county to attract businesses.

Linda Roebuck, of Atkinson, said at the Nov. 7 meeting that she was wary of the requests, especially in the face of "enormous pressure" from advocates. "I've heard there's been enormous pressure on the county commissioners. I feel the pressure," she said. "But, if you've only got $100, how can you spend $200?"

Roebuck said she would like to see PCEDC make more effort to fund raise, on its own, before requesting county tax funds. She said she was offended by a letter from Greenville Town Manager John Simko.

"We're not against economic development," she said, pointing out that the committee is charged with protecting county taxpayers from undue burden.

Janice McAllister, the committee chairman from Abbot, said that the county's budget has increased 29 percent from 1999 to 2003, and she said she would like to see some effort made to trim that amount back.

The $3.2 million proposal for expenditures in 2003 represents a 7.5 percent increase over the previous budget.

Meanwhile, revenue is expected to drop to $934,980÷down 12 percent from 2002's budget of more than $1 million.

The committee made about 10,000 worth of cuts at the Nov. 7 meeting, poring over the budget in minute detail for three hours. In the end the group cut the cost-of-living increase for non-union and elected employees from the proposed 3 percent increase to 1.4 percent. Additional savings were found in electricity costs for the courthouse and the courthouse annex, the sheriff department's holiday pay and professioal fees, along with printing and microfilming budgets for the probate court.

Mark Scarano, director of PCEDC, spoke on behalf of the orgazation's efforts to bring new jobs and educational opportunities into the county. He said the group has attempted to raise funds, but that those efforts have fallen flat with the slow economy.

"A lot of corporations weren't able to give this year," he said.

Gordon MacKinney, owner of Webber Hardware, said many businesses in the area already donate "thousands" in volunteer time to PCEDC. He said the county needs a full-time economic development effort to help maintain the jobs and people in the area. "This is a county function," he said.

Simko said that the group for "the last month or so" has been scrambling financially to make ends meet. He said the county's funding of $75,000 would enable the agemcy to maintain its "core operation, so
we're not backpaddling."

Jane Jones, town manager in Milo, gave the committee members a letter from the board of selectmen in her town, in support of the economic development expenditure. Jones and Sophie Wilson, town manager in Brownville, have both advocated at previous meetings for the funding.

"This is the only time I've come to the budget advisory committee and said, Please, raise my taxes,'" Jones said.

Roebuck said the committee had been under the impression that the county's share of the funding for PCEDC was only to get the group off the ground and that it was to end this year. So instead of a $35,000 increase, she said, "it's the whole $75,000." She asked if the expenditure will set a precedent for 2004 and future budgets.

MacKinney agreed that the request, likely, will be ongoing. "I think every year this should be in the budget," he said. "It doesn't do any good to not have anybody working for growth in this county."

He said the expenses will go up every year, as will the tax rate, unless the county's valuation goes up-meaning more people are sharing the tax burden.

McAllister said that the committee does need to think about those people who are out of work, currently, and may not be able to afford any increase to their taxes. "We have an awful lot of people out of work, more than you may realize," she said. "And we have an awful lot of senior citizens who are going to get a raise of 1.4 percent. How do we protect them?"

Jones said that is a concern of hers, as the town of Milo is home to many senior citizens. She said, however, that economic development is a must. "For all the economic gloom we deal with," she said. "This is the hope."

Richard Gould, a committee member from Greenville, said that the only solution to the county's problem is job creation. He said that the county has to take a chance and fund economic development efforts: "No one can accomplish anything without investing," he said.

Roebuck said that she is concemed higher taxes may cause businesses to move out of the region, taking the valued jobs with them. "We can't afford to lose the jobs we've got, she said.

MacKinney said that the tax rate may be high, but the cost of property is low. He said that he doesn't believe it is the taxes that are driving companies out of the region, but the cheap cost of labor overseas.

Roebuck said she would be favor of funding the $75,000 request this year, with the strong recommendation that PCEDC explore "alternative funding sources" so the same request isn't made again next year. "They need to realize there isn't a bottomless pot," she said.

She said she could not see funding the $29,000 request for the speculative buildings this year.

"We're going to develop ourselves right out of a county," she said.

The vote was unanimous.

Residents are invited to a public hearing on the 2003 budget Nov. 25 at the county courthouse. The public hearing is set for 7 p.m.

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