ELLSWORTH, Maine — Hancock County has adopted a 2010 budget that is expected to keep county tax bills to an increase of a little more than 1 percent, according to a county official.
Commissioner Steve Joy said Friday that the three commissioners set out last fall to limit any increase in county taxes as much as possible. By arriving at an increase of 1.37 percent, he said, the county is expected to raise a little more than $5 million in taxes this year.
Overall, the county is expected to spend $6,600,378 in 2010, but hopes to offset it with $1,593,592 in revenue, he said.
“Our goal was a zero to 2 percent increase when we started” the budget process, Joy said. He said the poor economy was a significant factor in the county’s desire to keep any tax increase as low as possible.
A 1.37 percent tax hike amounts to an overall tax increase of $68,000, according to Joy. The final version of the 2010 budget was adopted in mid-December and went into effect on Jan. 1.
The commissioner said the county’s health costs are going up 13 percent and that, in keeping with the need for a new roof on the courthouse, county officials budgeted $200,000 for the county’s roof reserve account.
The county expects to have a smaller fund balance left over from 2009 than it has had in recent years, he said, but because of a spending freeze during the final six weeks of 2010 the fund balance should be enough that the county can commit another $100,000 to the roof account, he said. If it does, the account balance would be $300,000 higher than it was last year. For several years, the county has raised $350,000 annually for the roof account in anticipation of the project.
To balance out these increases, county department heads trimmed many parts of their budgets and did not single out one or a few budget items for significant cuts, Joy said. He said the county did not budget for any cost-of-living increases in 2010, but he noted that the cost-of-living estimate for 2010 is expected to be lower than it was last year because of changes in the economy.
The county did not cut any positions and will pay step increases, he said.
Joy said the county is in negotiations with its union employees for new contracts, which likely won’t be wrapped up until well into the year.