PITTSFIELD, Maine — The Pittsfield Town Council on Tuesday will consider asking Somerset County commissioners to work toward a “zero-based budget” in the coming months, a task that the chairman of the county’s budget committee called “absolutely impossible.”
A zero-based budget means county spending would be held equal to or less than spending in the current year, according to a draft of the resolution Pittsfield councilors will consider during their meeting Tuesday. Dwight Dogherty, of Pittsfield, a longtime member of the county budget committee and former Pittsfield town manager, said he sees little likelihood that spending can be held in check.
“It’s not really attainable,” said Dogherty. “Especially with the state cutting back on funding so much. I just don’t see it happening.”
County Administrator Robin Weeks said Monday that this would mark the first time in recent memory that a town has formally asked commissioners to strive for a certain budget number. She said commissioners are sensitive to the suffering economy’s effect on municipalities.
“We’re going to do whatever we can to make sure that we zero-base our budget as much as possible,” said Weeks. “Everyone here knows that budgets are tight. Anything’s possible, and we’re going to try our best.”
The resolution that will be considered Tuesday summarizes Pittsfield’s recent municipal budget process, which led to the passage Dec. 15 of a plan to spend 2 percent less than what was allocated in the current year. The town awaits budget proposals from the county and school department, which will be completed in the coming months.
Town Manager Kathryn Ruth said the resolution was drafted at the request of town councilors.
“The Pittsfield Town Council believes that these difficult times will continue for the foreseeable future,” states the resolution. “[We] implore the Somerset County Commissioners and Budget Committee to achieve a zero-based budget for the upcoming budget season.”
County commissioners are preparing to begin work on the 2011 budget next month. Weeks said she would hold preliminary budget discussions with department heads this week.
Dogherty said that because of past actions, such as a decision last year to apply surplus in a county jail building account to reducing taxes as opposed to paying off debt, the county faces considerable expenses.
“In my opinion that was short-sighted,” said Dogherty. “It took pressure off for the time being, but where does it leave us in the current year? We’re going to have to replace that money.”
In other business, the Pittsfield Town Council will hold its organizational proceedings, which include electing a new mayor and deputy mayor and several other appointments. The meeting begins at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday in council chambers at the municipal building.