DOVER-FOXCROFT, Maine — University of Maine Cooperative Extension supporters turned out in force at a public hearing Monday to express opposition to a proposed county budget cut of $25,850 for the agency.
Piscataquis County Commissioner Tom Lizotte told the audience the county faced a decrease in revenues of about $86,000. In order to stay under the LD 1 tax cap, a total of about $85,000 in cuts was made in 100 line items and programs, including the $25,850 for a Cooperative Extension clerical position, he said.
Extension had asked for $33,700, but the Extension board last week agreed to reduce the request to $20,000 in an attempt to reach a middle ground, Paul Matulis of the Extension board said Monday. That reduction would mean the clerical worker likely would work part time for the county and do work for other county Extension offices.
“We understand it’s tough times,” Matulis said. He said Extension would do its best to stretch it finances to keep the services going.
Lizotte said it would be difficult to shift the budget cut elsewhere. He said the “cupboard’s pretty bare and something has to go.” He noted that in addition to the annual funds for a clerical position, the county provides the Extension free rent and covers all overhead costs at a combined amount of nearly $90,000.
Although an Extension official warned commissioners last month that the office would be closed if the clerical position were not funded, John Rebar, Extension’s statewide director, said Monday the university has never closed an office for lack of funding. “We do not want to close the Piscataquis County office,” he said. “We want to work with you.”
Town Managers John Simko of Greenville, Sophia Wilson of Brownville and Jeff Gahagan of Milo all suggested that the commissioners find the cuts elsewhere.
Cooperative Extension has brought dividends to the county, Wilson said. Educator Roger Merchant has worked on tourism-based businesses and infrastructure development and has been instrumental in getting private and public partners together, she said. Wilson said that when she looked at the county budget, she saw areas that could be cut, in particular, some salaries that were triple that of some household incomes in the county. She also said the commissioners’ salaries were comparable to what they were before a county manager was hired.
Wilson also noted, as did retired educator Edwin Treworgy of Milo, the success of an Extension-supported after-school program in SAD 41.
It didn’t make sense to Treworgy that flat funding took priority. He suggested that in his community, based on the state valuation, it would cost about 59 cents extra in taxes to restore the cut. “What is the priority? It is not money. It is what we can do for children and what we can do for people who need these services. That is the priority,” he said to applause.
The commissioners will consider the comments made Monday before they adopt a budget next month. If the commissioners adopt the budget recommended by the budget advisory committee, the bottom line will reflect a 0.01 percent increase in the tax commitment over the current year, Lizotte said.