DOVER-FOXCROFT, Maine — With their own budgets down to the bare bones, town officials in Piscataquis County say county and school expenses are the only place left to cut to bring tax relief to their residents.
That message came Thursday during the Piscataquis County Budget Advisory Committee’s first meeting to review the proposed 2012 county budget. The committee, which consists mostly of town officials, said there should be no tax increase in county government in 2012.
Milo Town Manager Jeff Gahagan, who is not on the budget advisory committee, said his selectmen are working hard to reduce Milo’s tax rate by half a point. He asked that the county hold the line to give communities a fighting chance.
“Hold the line or come up with some kind of a reduction, because we can’t handle it out there anymore,” he said.
Commissioner Tom Lizotte said Thursday that he is very aware of the poor economy in the county. “There’s a lot of wants out there. What is a necessity, that’s what we can fund next year, and my goal is a zero tax increase in the county government,” he said.
The proposed budget of $3,963,676, which reflects an increase of 3.13 percent over 2011, represents what the department heads have requested. Once the budget advisory committee makes its recommendations, the commissioners will then decide the final funding package.
The proposed budget includes a $2,000 increase each for County Manager Marilyn Tourtelotte and County Treasurer Gail Lynch to help bring their salaries in line with other counties. It also includes a 2 percent increase for other full-time county employees, with the exception of employees in telecommunications, who have negotiated a 2.75-percent increase.
Sheriff John Goggin and Chief Deputy Dale Clukey have asked for a 3 percent increase since they have not had a pay hike since 2009. The sheriff also has asked for a 39-cent increase in the hourly wage for regular part-time deputies, according to Tourtelotte. Goggin also has asked for $60,000 for two new cruisers.
Of the approximately $120,000 increase in the total budget, $95,000 is in the sheriff’s department, Lizotte said.
“The economy hasn’t gotten any better, to say the least, and I’m pretty sure everybody’s aware of that and I think our duties here would be to try to supply what’s needed with the least cost that it can be done for,” Sangerville Selectman Tom Carone said. “With that in mind, I think everybody’s going to have a sharp pencil.”
Efficiencies have been reached in municipal government and it’s time now to look at reducing or eliminating programs at the county level, said John Morrell, a budget committee member from Greenville. Greenville residents are facing three large, expensive projects: closing the Nickerson Elementary School and relocating the pupils into the middle-high school, the conversion of the middle-high school boiler to one that burns wood pellets and the closing of the landfill, he said.
“I think we’ve cut what we control — the part of the budget that we control in Brownville — to the very, very bones, and we talk about efficiency. We’re there; there is no fat,” said Terry Knowles, a budget committee member from Brownville, “It’s a very, very stressful process and we’ve got nowhere to turn except the county, school and state.”
The committee will continue its budget review at 6 p.m. Oct. 25 in the district courtroom.