ELLSWORTH, Maine — Hancock County commissioners have adopted a 2009 budget that will result in no increase for taxpayers, according to a county official.
Hancock County Clerk Cynthia Deprenger said Tuesday that the three-seat board of commissioners voted unanimously Dec. 15 to approve a $7.18 million budget for the coming year. She said that to support that budget, the county will have to raise a total of $5,006,786 in property taxes — the same amount it raised for the 2008 budget.
“We tried to make it as bottom-line as we could,” Deprenger said. “It was very important to [outgoing Commission Chairman Ken Shea] to go out without any increases.”
The operating costs of the county jail are expected to stay the same, but the jail budget is increasing because of different accounting procedures, according to Deprenger. Some jail costs that previously were included in other departmental budgets such as the sheriff’s or maintenance department now are being listed with overall jail costs in the jail’s budget, she said. The jail budget for 2009 is $1,670,136.
Deprenger said revenues in some county departments such as the registry of deeds and in probate were down this year because of the slumping economy. The county expects to have low revenue again in 2009, she said, but has been able to make up for it in the 2009 budget with unexpected surpluses from the 2008 budget.
“We had enough transfers [from the current budget] that we had a zero percent increase,” Deprenger said.
The county also switched health care providers, signing up with Meritain Health, Deprenger said. County employees will receive the same coverage they did this year, but county officials hope the plan will save money on health care costs in coming years, she said.
The new health care plan is self-funded, which means the county should be able to build up its health care funds over time, provided that its costs for actual medical treatment stay relatively low, according to Deprenger. This will help keep coverage costs low in the long-term, she said.
“Waldo County went with it last year and saved over $100,000,” Deprenger said of the new plan. “We might not see that much in savings [right away] but we hope to in the future.”
Deprenger said the county also hopes to save money in the treasurer’s office through personnel changes. The county has made the elected treasurer position part-time and plans to hire a full-time financial manager. By making the treasurer position part-time, the county expects to save on personnel costs, she said.
Ellsworth resident Cathy Planchart is expected to take over the elected treasurer position, having been named by Gov. John Baldacci to replace Sally Crowley, who died in office this past October from cancer.
Deprenger said the county hopes to hire a financial manager by mid-January, and a new regional communications director to replace outgoing director Linda Dunno by the beginning of February. Former Ellsworth Fire Chief Bob McKenney is filling the dispatch center director’s post on an interim basis but is not interested in coming out of retirement for a full-time job, she said.
The county’s Unorganized Territory budget, which is maintained separately from the rest of the county budget, decreased 6 percent because of a surplus from the 2008 Unorganized Territory budget, Deprenger said. The county’s Unorganized Territory budget for 2009 is $154,505, she said.