Washington County Commissioners begin budget process

Posted Aug. 12, 2011, at 8:41 p.m.

MACHIAS, Maine — The Washington County Commissioners handed their $6.046 million proposed budget over to the Budget Advisory Committee on Thursday night, but said the real work is just now beginning.

“This is our first working budget,” Chairman Chris Gardner said while handing over the proposal. “The Budget Advisory Committee really crafts and personalizes it.”

County Manager Betsy Fitzgerald said the proposed budget did not represent the “glaring gap” that last year’s did. That budget resulted in a 12 percent increase in taxation.

“What we created this year was a budget that reflects just what we need to run the departments,” she said.

Fitzgerald said the budget is “more or less flat,” and, as proposed represents a 4.37 percent increase over last year’s.

Gardner called both the board of commissioners and the committee “conservative.” He said that from 2005 to 2010, the budget remained relatively flat. “But in 2011, for the first time in many years, we increased by 12 percent,” he said. “Many of those costs that drove the increase were totally out of our control. There is not a lot of fluff in our budget.”

Commissioner Kevin Shorey still anticipated that “this budget process will be a very daunting task. This is why we are starting early.’’

The committee adjourned to a separate room where they elected Milbridge Town Manager Lewis Pinkham as chairman and set 10 a.m. Mondays, Sept. 12, 19 and 26, as meeting dates. The meetings will be held in the conference room at the Washington County Emergency Management Office on Center Street.

In other business, the commissioners agreed to look into buying electricity directly off the grid. Gardner said the port of Eastport is currently researching that move and expects to save considerable money on energy costs. “This doesn’t work for all power users,” Gardner said, “but for a large user like the county, it could make sense.”

The commissioners also approved a $50,000 loan from the Tax Increment Financing Fund, which is fueled by the Stetson Mountain Wind Project, for the Cobscook Bay Company, which creates Maine Fresh seafood pies. The company will also be seeking expansion funding through the Finance Authority of Maine and Coastal Enterprises Inc.

Unorganized Township Supervisor Dean Preston reported that enhanced 911 numbering and inventory has now been completed on all roads, boat launches and homes. He will now meet with five local post offices this week to complete the addressing requirements.

The commissioners also approved the termination of Sgt. Thomas Chambers of the Washington County Sheriff’s Department. Citing personnel confidentiality, the commissioners would not provide a reason for the firing. Chambers did not attend the meeting and could not be reached for comment.

The commissioners also read a letter of praise for Washington County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Mike St. Louis from Lt. Jeffrey Currier of the Maine Forest Service. St. Louis assisted the Forest Service’s Incident Management Team at wildfires in Texas in June and July. Currier said St. Louis “was a welcome presence” and he served as the Maine Liaison Officer with “good nature and common sense.”

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