Somerset County committee votes to delay budget

Posted June 30, 2010, at 11:26 p.m.

SKOWHEGAN, Maine — Passage of the 2011 Somerset County budget will wait at least another month, despite the fact the new fiscal year begins today.

Members of the county budget committee voted 7-1 to table the budget until at least July 28 after more than three hours of debate Wednesday night. Several members of the committee said they had whittled down the portion of the budget under their jurisdiction as much as they could and therefore should pass it, but the com-mittee opted to delay final passage until other portions of the budget were decided.

The largest unknown concerns the spending plan for Somerset County Jail, which is overseen by the state Board of Corrections. Somerset County commissioners are lobbying the Board of Corrections to lower the county’s “cap,” meaning the percent increase the state expects the county to contribute. Under the state’s 2-year-old jail consolidation law, counties pay their previous year’s budget, plus the cap, and the state pays the rest.

Somerset County seeks to have its cap lowered from about 5.2 percent to about 4.8 percent, which would save some $275,000 in fiscal year 2011.

However, the county’s auditor still is working to determine how much was spent on the jail in fiscal year 2010, and the Board of Corrections is not scheduled to address the issue until late July.

While some lobbied to pass the budget, others argued to delay passage because additional deep cuts will be necessary if the spending cap is not lowered. If the cap is lowered, it appears that the budget committee — which must approve the budget by a two-thirds majority before it can be sent to the county commissioners — would approve the version it settled on Wednesday night.

In a series of actions taken as the committee went through the budget line by line, the committee cut almost $57,000 from the $5.1 million budget under consideration. Including debt service but not including approximately $5 million in jail costs, that would put the budget at around $7.6 million.

The delay in passing the budget means that towns in Somerset County will have to delay their own budgets because they don’t know how much they owe the county. While some operate on a calendar year budget, other towns’ budgets begin today.

There was little optimism that the Board of Corrections would approve the county’s request in time to make a positive difference in the 2011 budget.

“I’d strongly suggest that department heads in the county begin to look for where they can cut $475,000,” said committee member Joy Mase of Skowhegan.

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