Penobscot County officials explain annual budget increases to Brewer

Posted March 23, 2011, at 10:51 p.m.

BREWER, Maine — The City Council heard in February that the city’s Penobscot County taxes are increasing again — for the ninth year straight — and that residents will pay more whether or not Bangor decides to consolidate its police and fire dispatch services with the county later this year.

That’s because the county budget was completed in December and already includes the costs of consolidation, Penobscot County Commissioner Peter Baldacci told councilors on Wednesday.

“At that time the city [of Bangor] was coming on board,” he said. “At this point, we’re not going to spend the unused funds  if Bangor doesn’t come on board. This is already in the budget. It’s just an unfortunate set of things that occurred.”

Bangor is the lone community in Penobscot County that does not use the Penobscot Regional Communications Center, even though it pays for the service through its county taxes. A referendum vote is scheduled for November so Bangor residents can decide whether the city and county should consolidate police and fire dispatch services.

Jim Ryan, communications center director, and County Manager Bill Collins sat with Baldacci and helped answer councilors’ questions.

“The actually increase, the portion of Mr. Ryan’s budget attributed to Bangor coming on board, is about $500,000,” Baldacci said. “That accounted for about half of our budget increase.”

The money would pay for eight full-time dispatchers and equipment to bring Bangor into the county’s system if residents in that community decide to go forward, Ryan said.

Brewer councilors asked what will be done with the half-million in funds that have been set aside to consolidate but will not be used this year.

“That money won’t be spent in 2011, whether or not they go for it,” Baldacci said. “In 2012, it will give some relief” to the communities that support the county budget.

“There is no smoke and mirrors,” he said, adding, “We would see it as a carry-forward balance.”

The county budget is divided proportionally among 61 communities, the Penobscot Indian Nation and the Unorganized Territory based on property values.

Brewer taxpayers supply about 7 percent of the Penobscot County budget and last year paid $815,661 for services. The county tax this year is projected to be $855,964, or $40,303 more than last year, Finance Director Karen Fussell said at last month’s council meeting.

Bangor taxpayers chip in about a quarter of the county budget, which last year totaled around $2.6 million, with a portion of the funds paying for communications center dispatch services that they do not use.

This year’s county budget also reflects the fact that labor negotiations are ongoing, Collins said.

“We have six union contracts, and two have been settled and four are in negotiations,” he said.

Brewer councilors also learned that the Penobscot Regional Communications Center now handles dispatch calls for Aroostook County, that Penobscot County pays Bangor around $28,000 for parking behind the old police station, and that the cost to rent communication tower space has doubled this year.

Councilors thanked the county officials for attending the meeting, and Jerry Goss added, “This was not about the quality of your service. We like the quality. It was more about the budget process and what we can do as a council to have a louder voice in your budget.”

Mayor Joseph Ferris invited the trio to return again next year.

“We’d like to do this annually,” he said. “I think you should come to Brewer more often.”

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