ELLSWORTH, Maine — Hancock County commissioners are close to approving an annual county budget that should result in county taxes rising by less than 2 percent, according to county officials.
The proposed 2011 Hancock County budget calls for the county to expend $6,750,000 during the course of the next calendar year, which would represent an increase of about $160,000 in total spending over what was budgeted for the current year.
Higher increases in line items such as health insurance costs, wages and retirement contributions, would increase county taxes by 3.2 percent, according to current budget estimates. Commissioners, however, are considering transferring $100,000 in surplus to the 2011 budget to keep the overall tax increase at 1.3 percent.
“My sense always is that [a tax increase of] zero to 2 percent is all I can stand, personally speaking,” said Steve Joy, county commissioner, Thursday.
Philip Roy, county chief financial officer, said Thursday he believes the three commissioners will approve his recommendation for the transfer today when they take their final vote on the 2011 budget.
If the surplus transfer is approved, the county’s overall tax bill will increase only $66,066, Roy said. This year’s overall county tax burden is $5,075,259, and next year’s overall tax burden would be $5,141,325.
Each year, the commissioners are required to give their final approval to the annual budget by Dec. 15.
County officials said this week that commissioners might meet today to change the amounts for a few smaller accounts, but the final budget figure is expected to be within a few hundred dollars of the current proposal.
Joy said commissioners decided this year, after not approving any such increase last year, to give county employees a 1.5 percent cost-of-living-allowance increase. Also in the final proposal are a 4 percent increase in retirement contributions and a 13 percent increase in the county’s health insurance costs. He said with such an increase, those costs are expected to increase from about $1 million to $1.13 million.
Roy said Hancock County’s projected health insurance cost increase is lower than most. The national average, he said, is an increase of between 18 percent and 20 percent each year. Hancock County had no increase in its health insurance costs in 2009 and for 2010 had an increase of only 13 percent, the same as what is being budgeted for 2011.
“The county’s done very well,” Roy said.
According to Joy, expenditure increases were offset elsewhere in the overall budget without whacking any major accounts by a large percentage. He said commissioners helped compensate for the increases by having department heads trim several annual requests by relatively small amounts.
“If you can save $500 here or $200 there all the way through the budget, you actually save some real money at some point,” the commissioner said.