ROCKLAND, Maine — The Knox County commissioners and the budget committee reviewed a $6.7 million proposed county budget for 2009 Thursday night.
The new budget reflects a 4 percent increase from last year.
“There are so many variables right now,” county administrator Andrew Hart said after the hour-long meeting, adding it was too soon in the process to consider an across-the-board cut.
Before he began his overview of the new budget, Washington Selectman Don Grinnell addressed the group, saying now is a better time to express concerns rather than at the public hearing in December when “it’s too little too late.”
Grinnell spoke to the committee about the need to keep assessments to the communities down this year.
“Since 2005, the county assessment — the county tax and the communications assessment — to the town of Washington has increased 19.1 percent,” he said. “Those two lines [in the town budget] comprise 12.1 percent of our total municipal commitment.”
He urged the committee to stay within the LD 1 tax cap, which limits the amount of annual budget growth.
He recommended the committee ask the county department heads to stay under the tax cap from the beginning, rather than at the public hearing in December.
“When you look at the property foreclosures out there, the cost of heating oil going up, it’s really tough for the citizens,” he said. “Everybody from the two presidential candidates on down need to tighten their belts.”
In his overview, Hart said the new assessment of $6.7 million is $11,573 more than the actual tax limit.
Heating oil prices had been locked in before the fuel prices began to drop. He said a new contract could be negotiated in 2009.
Salaries are calculated at 3 percent plus one according to the consumer price index as of September 2008.
Health insurance at this point is the same as in the previous budget, but the county is waiting for new word on the rates.
Committee member Bart Virgie of Thomaston asked whether the county could lower the temperature in the buildings to save fuel costs.
“We’re going to do what we can,” said Hart.
“Is there going to be a policy to set the thermostat at 68 degrees and the staff, if a little cool, can put on a sweater, as opposed to setting a thermostat at 72?” Virgie asked.
“We’re definitely going to have to look at that,” Hart said.
Salaries will go up an estimated 3 percent based on the consumer price index set in September 2008, as required by labor contracts.
Projected revenues are down, including deed revenues by $92,000, because houses aren’t selling. Probate fees also are down, Hart said.
The jail budget for 2009 is $3.188 million as determined by the Maine Board of Corrections in anticipation of the state takeover of all jails.
“From this point and going forward, the jail budget is no longer controlled [by] the county, but by the state of Maine,” Hart said.
“Each year the assessment will be based on that figure,” he said. “Anything above that figure we have to justify to the Board of Corrections.”
Jail employees will remain county employees, he said.
“If we submitted a budget of $3.3 million instead of $3.188 million, the difference would have to be approved by the Board of Corrections,” he said.
The budget committee will meet every Thursday except for Thanksgiving and plans to hold a public hearing on the package at 6 p.m. Dec. 4 at the Knox County Courthouse. The commissioners will vote then on whether to approve the budget.