DOVER-FOXCROFT, Maine — The Piscataquis County Budget Advisory Committee voted unanimously Wednesday to recommend county government be funded in 2011 at the 2010 level.
That recommendation, if accepted by county commissioners, will mean department heads will have to reduce their budgets to their 2010 funding levels and then reduce them further to cover the loss of surplus. The latter reduction is needed because the county used $341,989 from its surplus last year to offset taxes and there is no surplus this year to do the same. Those two moves will result in a flat budget of $3,599,567 for 2011.
“I know most of the towns do not want to see any increase,” said budget committee member Jerry Brown of Milo, who recommended no increase. His suggestion that the departments, with a few exceptions, reduce their budgets to the 2010 levels, then trim those figures 12.1 percent to offset the subsidy loss, was adopted by the committee.
Brown spared the Piscataquis County Economic Development Council, which reduced its funding request from $97,500 in 2010 to $80,000 in 2011, from the proposed 12.1 percent cuts, along with insurance, overlay, contingency, district and superior courts, and the county jail.
Commissioner Tom Lizotte said he was “very confident” the commissioners could get to zero spending, but the “real rub” was making up the surplus loss. It will be difficult making up for the surplus loss without disrupting those services required by law, he said. Because 58 percent of the county budget is personnel, it could mean layoffs, which will be difficult when many of the departments have only two employees, he noted.
“I know it’s going to be hard and I know it’s going to hurt some people … when you start talking this kind of money, you’re not talking about fuel oil and you’re not talking about gasoline, you’re basically talking about people and programs,” Brown said.
He said there has to be reorganization as well as cooperation between law enforcement agencies to reduce costs. “People have just got to change the way they are doing business,” he said.
Tom Sands of Dover-Foxcroft and Mary Downs of Sebec both strongly urged better cooperation between local, county and state police, especially since the Sheriff’s Department’s budget is one of the highest budgets in the county. Sands said the county should resume the call-sharing program with Maine State Police, a program that Sheriff John Goggin said hasn’t worked in past years.
Downs said she didn’t care what color uniform an officer wore if they are going to an accident that involved her. Downs also strongly urged the unions representing employees in the Sheriff’s Department and jail, which are in negotiations with the county, to seek no increase in pay this year.
Chief Deputy Dale Clukey told the committee his department had cut about $73,000 from its initial request. In order to meet the Budget Committee’s requirement, another $26,000 in cuts will be needed.
Addressing the call-sharing program, Clukey said it didn’t work before because there were not enough troopers available for the program and there are not enough troopers available to the county now. He also took offense to comments made about the lack of cooperation by the department with local police departments and offered statistics that showed otherwise.
It will be up to department heads and the commissioners to make the requested cuts before the budget committee meets again on Nov. 18.