Waldo County officials propose 1 percent 2009 budget increase

Posted Dec. 07, 2008, at 10:08 p.m.

BELFAST, Maine — Concerned with the slumping economy, the Waldo County commissioners and budget committee have recommended a 2009 budget with a 1 percent increase.

The commissioners and the committee will submit their proposed $7,442,881 budget to a public hearing 6 p.m. Friday, Dec. 19, at Belfast District Courthouse.

The budget represents a $62,291 increase, or 0.84 percent, over last year’s spending package of $7,380,590.

Included in the budget is a 4 percent across-the-board pay raise for county employees and double-digit increases in the cost of running the jail, Sheriff’s Department and regional dispatch center. Those increases are offset by the decision to self-insure health care that will result in annual savings of more than $500,000. That decision reduces the employee benefits line from the $1,350,500 spent last year to $845,730 for the coming year.

Under the self-insured program, the county will set aside $600,000 for medical expenses and acquired an insurance policy with a $14,000 monthly premium for any cost incurred above that level.

“We managed to catch up with a lot of things over the past eight years and that made it easier for us to manage this budget,” commissioner chairman John Hyk said Friday. “It’s obvious we’re sailing into uncharted financial waters with this economy, so this is the year to hold the line. We said we were going to pull in our horns and we have.”

As is the case every year, the jail, sheriff’s patrol and dispatch center consume the largest portion of the budget. Combined, the three departments are responsible for $4,750,347 of the $7.4 million budget. Those departments also account for about half of the county’s 82 full-time employees. The county has 145 full- and part-time employees. A number of the part-timers are assigned to those three departments as well.

The jail budget, which was capped by state legislation aimed at consolidating corrections services statewide, is $2,832,353, an increase of $385,653, or 16 percent more than last year’s budget of $2,446,700.

While the commissioners and budget committee have retained management control of the jail and its personnel, under the legislation approved last spring a nine-member board has been appointed by the governor to coordinate purchasing, transportation and inmate transfers between the counties and the state’s prison system. The board also was charged with handling the bulk purchasing of medicine and commodities. County Sheriff Scott Story is a member of the oversight board.

The sheriff’s budget is $1,191,669, an increase of $155,388, or 15 percent more than last year’s budget of $1,036,281. Much of that increase is caused by the addition of two patrol deputies, each with an annual salary of $33,914, and the purchase of three new cruisers for a total of $70,500. The county expects to spend $150,000 on vehicle maintenance and gasoline next year.

The regional dispatch budget is $726,325, an increase of $69,825, or 11 percent more than last year’s budget of $656,500. Most of the increase is caused by a $42,236 increase in the part-time employee line and $16,117 in the overtime budget.

Other major expenditures recommended in next year’s budget are: district attorney, $161,657, an increase of 4 percent; county commissioners, $564,637, an increase of 8 percent, registry of deeds, $214,878, a decrease of 11 percent; Probate Court, $178,653, a decrease of 2 percent; and debt service, $66,800 a decrease of 5 percent.

Hyk, who was defeated in his bid for a third four-year term as county commissioner, credited the budget committee and the county’s work force with enabling the commissioners to manage the county’s affairs.

“This is what you get when you have proper management and good people,” Hyk said.

Hyk, who also served on the Board of Selectmen in Prospect, added, “This ends 24 years of continual elected service. I’m very proud of the things I’ve been able to accomplish in Prospect and at the county level. They’ve both been a great bunch of people to work with and I really enjoyed it. I’m leaving the place better than I found it.”

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