BELFAST, Maine — The 2011 Waldo County budget was trimmed during the final public hearing last week to $7.45 million — a number that is exactly equal to this year’s budget.
But to get to that zero figure, the Waldo County Budget Committee had to make at least one cut that is worrisome to Commissioner Donald Berry — the nearly $77,000 that was subtracted from a proposed addition to the health care risk pool. The three county commissioners initially had proposed a budget that had a 1.03 per-cent increase over the current budget.
Berry explained Thursday that the county decided three years ago to directly insure its employees, with the intention of saving money. Although the county’s health insurance adviser said that it should have about $1 million in reserve to pay claims, right now there is less than half of that, $420,000, he said.
“I just personally hope we don’t have any catastrophic illnesses within our staff at all,” he said. “This could really tax the system pretty significantly, if there were.”
Another question that remains for the commissioner concerns two outstanding contracts to be negotiated with two different unions — for the support staff and for the county deputies. The existing contracts will expire by year’s end.
“The new commissioners will have to deal with that,” Berry said.
He missed being re-elected in November by just two votes. His seat will be filled in January by incoming Commissioner Betty Johnson of Lincolnville.
No jobs were trimmed in the course of balancing the budget, although a slowdown for the Waldo County Registry of Deeds has meant that the position of one employee who left will not be filled, and another employee has been shifted to the Waldo County District Attorney’s Office because there was not enough work at the registry, according to a county clerk.
Other changes in the county budget for the next fiscal year include allocating zero dollars for the reserves account, $87,500 less than the current year, and zero dollars for payment of debt service, which is $63,600 less than this year.
County Treasurer David Parkman said he is concerned about overdepleting the reserve accounts, especially with the roughly $500,000 from reserves that will be spent on the new Sheriff’s Office building.
“In the future, if we go through these balances like we are, we’re going to be short of cash,” he said.
In recent years, the budgets have been cut close to the bone, with not much money being used to replenish county reserves, he said.
“We’re very, very close for the county to be in the red,” Parkman said. “These budgets are very, very close, and once [the county] goes into the red, we make up for it in fund balances.”