DOVER-FOXCROFT, Maine — Piscataquis County is feeling the pinch from the loss of revenue from the boarding of federal prisoners and inmates from other counties. Until the state consolidated the jail system two years ago, the county had relied on those funds to help offset county taxes.
With a draft 2011 budget that now reflects about $217,000 more in spending than last year and no boarding revenues at all, the Piscataquis County Budget Advisory Committee and the county commissioners are looking at about $550,000 in cuts if their object is no increase in county government spending.
The budget committee is composed of Jerry Brown of Milo; John Morrell of Greenville; Keith Smith of the Unorganized Territory, which funds the largest amount of the county budget; Jan Ronco of Abbot; Thomas Carone of Sangerville; Tom Sands of Dover-Foxcroft; John Tatko of Willimantic; Mary Downs of Sebec; Gerald Brown of Milo; and Terry Knowles of Brownville.
“We’ve got to kind of be very creative somehow to make a recommendation if we’re going to save our communities money,” Brown said Tuesday at a meeting of the budget panel.
Commissioner Tom Lizotte agreed. “Having no surplus automatically puts you behind the eight ball because even if you keep your expenditures exactly what they were last year, you don’t have $341,000, which is what we applied in surplus last year to reduce the budget.”
If the draft budget were adopted without any revisions, Greenville’s tax for county government would increase from $406,354 to $489,624, and Milo’s would increase from $118,000 to $136,419, the committee was told.
“Can’t do it,” Milo Town Manager Jeff Gahagan said of the increase.
In a related matter, the budget committee was told that the Piscataquis County Economic Development Council was doing its best to help improve the infrastructure for local towns so that when the economy recovers, businesses might want to relocate to the region. The council received about $1.5 million in grants over the past year, according to Gahagan, who is a member of the council. “We’re spreading the wealth,” he said.
Downs, who said people in her community are not happy about the grants because they come from taxpayers’ pockets, asked for a proper listing next week of all the grants received by the county, what agency or department the money came from, where it was spent and how many jobs they created.
“We could balance the federal budget” if the government kept the money it doled out on grants, she suggested.
Recognizing how bad the economy is, Lizotte said it is unrealistic to expect that the council would generate a lot of jobs now. The council’s strategy has been to get as many grants as possible to improve the infrastructure so that when the economy does improve, the county will have a fighting chance, he said.
Gahagan said the state has “beat up” towns and counties so badly that they have to find the grants “to keep their houses in order.” If Piscataquis County doesn’t go after the grants, they will be awarded to other counties, he pointed out.
“Maine is not a business-friendly state. It’s very difficult to try to get manufacturing going again,” Gahagan said. “I think over the past year, the net job increase in Maine is probably a little over 50 jobs, and they’re not coming north.”
The state has all kinds of businesses, but unfortunately they aren’t many manufacturing jobs, said Smith, of Greenville. “This is becoming an environmental state, and all the land is getting bought up by the Sierra Club and the Appalachian Mountain Club,” he added.
Smith said the state should not be giving these clubs tax breaks for land in tree growth when the clubs are charging people to enjoy and recreate on their land as a business.
The budget committee has already met with several department heads, and at its Nov. 4 meeting will meet with officials in the sheriff’s department, telecommunications and the district attorney’s office.
“You may have to make some decisions that are not going to make some elected officials happy, but the question is, ‘What’s more important, making them happy or trying to help the taxpayers survive through the recession?” Lizotte said. “That will be the discussion next week, which should be very entertaining.”