Economy keynote topic at meeting of county officials

Posted Sept. 22, 2008, at 9:19 p.m.

Tax abatements and increments. Employee negotiations and discipline. LifeFlight and the state’s economic future.

All will be discussed Friday and Saturday at the annual convention of the Maine County Commissioners Association at the Presque Isle Inn.

More than 150 county commissioners and employees from around the state are expected to attend.

Charles Colgan, professor of public policy and management at Muskie School of Public Policy at the University of Southern Maine, will deliver the keynote address Friday night on the state’s economic future.

“At the speed [economic] events are moving, I’m not sure what I’m going to say,” he said Monday, referring to the recent crisis on Wall Street and lawmakers’ efforts to bail out some of the nation’s largest financial institutions.

How trends in the national economy are expected to negatively affect Maine and what that will mean for state government’s fiscal resources will be the focus of his speech, according to Colgan.

“None of it is good,” Colgan said. “County government is going to get squeezed from both sides along with municipal governments due to the decline in residential property values. They will get squeezed by the state because of its over-reliance on capital gains taxes for revenue.”

He predicted that over the next few years county government and its responsibilities “would either become more narrowly constrained,” delivering fewer services than in recent years, or small municipalities could transfer resources to counties so they could deliver services such as tax assessment and distribution of general assistance now done by towns.

“It’s poised to go one way or the other,” he said, “I’m just not sure which way it’s going to go.”

Bill Collins, administrator for Penobscot County, said Monday that he would attend the conference.

One of the workshops he plans to participate in will focus on changing the county’s fiscal year, which is the same as the calendar year, to coincide with the state’s fiscal year, which runs from July 1 to June 30.

“Due to the creation of the State Board of Corrections, it’s mandatory that the jail change its fiscal year,” he said. “We’ll be looking at whether it makes sense for us as a county to do that as a county as well. That’s something many of us are very much interested in.”

Other speakers will be Steven Farnham, executive director of the Aroostook County Agency on Aging, who will outline the agency’s plans to provide fuel assistance to the elderly this winter, and Maine humorist John MacDonald.

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