Washington County commissioners get first peek at budget

Posted Aug. 05, 2010, at 11:43 p.m.

MACHIAS, Maine — The Washington County commissioners unveiled the department-head proposed 2011 budget Thursday, months earlier than usual.

“We saw what was coming,” Chairman Chris Gardner said. “We knew this year was not going to be easy.”

Gardner stressed that the first draft of the budget had not been reviewed by the county’s budget committee or the commissioners.

He prefaced revealing the proposal by touting how fiscally conservative the commissioners have been in the past several years.

“But this is not a budget we are used to,” Gardner said.

The first draft is $5,017,117 — much higher than last year’s $4,247,631 — but Commissioner John Crowley stressed that the budget was a working document.

“These numbers will change tremendously,” Crowley predicted.

Still, Gardner said, there is no fluff in the proposal.

“There is no $400,000 paper clip line that we can cut,” Gardner said. He said the budget committee would have to balance services versus their price tags.

Gardner said one practice that will hurt this budget cycle is that the commissioners have been very aggressive in using surplus funds to lower taxation.

“We used a half a million dollars last year,” Gardner said. “But we think we will only be able to release $300,000 this year.”

Other factors that will help push the budget higher include employee benefit increases, the hiring of two new dispatchers at the regional communications center and changes required by state law to increase the county’s contingency account.

“We are going to try to stay with very basic functions but still be able to provide services,” Gardner said.

Commissioner Kevin Shorey praised the budget committee, which consists of town clerks, town and city managers and the county manager, and said they had a solid reputation of “being frugal with the taxpayers’ money.”

He also asked the Sheriff’s Department union to work in cooperation with the budget committee when setting benefits and other costs.

The Washington County Budget Committee met briefly after its appearance before the commissioners and elected Lewis Pinkham, Milbridge’s town manager, as chairman. The committee’s first meeting will be at 9 a.m. Tuesday, Aug. 10, in the Centre Street conference room of Machias Savings Bank.

In other business, the commissioners:

• Approved a $1,150 research grant from the tax increment financing fund for Clean Earth Farms of Jonesboro, operated by Nancy Oden. Clean Earth will research the need for raised bed gardens and garden education in the Unorganized Territory.

• Held a public hearing on the $350,000 Community Development Block Grant that was received to rebuild the Indian Township public safety building.

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