Somerset County budget at an impasse

Posted June 11, 2010, at 10:30 p.m.

SKOWHEGAN, Maine — Somerset County officials are seeking comments from the public on the 2011 budget proposal, which is lower than the current year but is set to have a negative impact on taxes because of a sharp drop in revenue.

Robert Dunphy, chairman of the board of commissioners, said the budget proposal remained in flux Friday and he was hopeful that the situation would improve before Monday’s meeting.

“It’s one of those situations that it’s hard to say a lot,” said Dunphy of the ongoing effort to reduce the budget proposal. “At this point anything I said would just be supposition.” Dunphy said that he hoped to have new information to share — which potentially could reduce the budget proposal significantly — at Monday night’s meeting, which is scheduled for 6 p.m. at the Somerset County Courthouse in Skowhegan.

Dwight Dogherty of Pittsfield, chairman of the county’s budget committee, said that unless there are some major changes, he expects his committee will reject the commissioners’ proposal.

“If [I] were a prognosticator, I’d say it seems unlikely the budget committee will approve the budget,” said Dogherty. “That means the county would operate on last year’s budget figures … and that would be the best scenario for the taxpayer.”

The eight-member committee needs a two-thirds vote to approve the budget, which is a new requirement instituted by commissioners last year, according to Dogherty. “That has not set very well with the committee,” he said.

The $5.1 million budget proposal is approximately $300,000 more than the current year because of uncontrollable increases in various costs to the county. But the real problem is on the revenue side, which is set to be almost $1 million less than the current year, according to budget documents provided by the county treasurer. That’s because commissioners used bond money last year from the construction of a new jail to pay off interest on the jail loan. Now that the money is gone, it leaves a significant budget hole, said Dunphy, who added that using the bond money was necessary to avoid penalties from the Internal Revenue Service.

Dunphy said he had heard that the budget committee might oppose the budget.

“They don’t know all that we’ve been working on,” said Dunphy. “We have to keep this as private as we can right now so we don’t upset the apple cart.”

Exacerbating the problem is the fact that the county’s undesignated fund balance has been depleted over the past four years, so it can’t be used to reduce taxes to the degree that is has in the past.

“The commissioners and the budget committee are definitely not on the same page,” said Dogherty. “We’re at loggerheads on many, many issues.”

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