ELLSWORTH, Maine — Hancock County officials have adopted a $6.9 million budget for 2012 that is expected to result in a 1 percent increase for county taxpayers.
Expenditures planned in the 2012 budget are roughly $240,000 more than the nearly $6.7 million in expenditures adopted a year ago. The amount to be appropriated by taxation in 2012 is slightly less than $5.2 million, which is $56,000 or a little more than 1 percent more than the $5.14 million the county appropriated in taxes this year.
Overall, the county’s expenditures are increasing by 3.6 percent.
The new budget is expected to go into effect on Sunday, Jan. 1.
According to Steve Joy, chairman of the Hancock County commissioners, the increase can be attributed to three main factors — contractual raises for county employees, higher health care costs and more expensive fuel costs.
“Those are probably the big three,” Joy said Friday. “Most of the fat has been cut out of the budget.”
Joy said there has been “a little increase” in revenue budgeted for 2012. A year ago, the three commissioners put more money into capital improvement accounts than they did for 2012. He said county commissioners started developing the 2012 budget with a target of limiting any increase to between zero and 2 percent.
“We kind of met in the middle,” he said.
Joy said that in the next couple of years he expects there to be at least three initiatives that could have noticeable effects on the county budget.
One is a wellness program for county employees that the county hopes to develop with Maine Coast Memorial Hospital in Ellsworth. The development and implementation of such a program could help mitigate the county’s health care costs as early as 2013, he said.
Another is the possible development of the Bull Hill wind farm project in Township 16, which was approved by the state’s Land Use Regulation Commission in October. The 19-turbine, $78.5 million project would provide the county with $400,000 in annual revenue, which the county would have to split evenly between Unorganized Territory expenses and other county costs.
Such revenue could help with the possible third initiative, Joy said, which would be the expansion of the county’s regional communications center.
Not all the municipalities in Hancock County get emergency dispatch services from the county, he said. County taxes do help fund the center’s approximate $600,000 budget, he said, but it also is funded with user fees. If all the towns that now provide their own dispatch services transferred those services to the county’s center, Joy said, the facility would have to be expanded to accommodate the higher call volume.
The county has looked into and will continue to consider doing away with the center’s user fees and funding the entire department with county taxes, according to Joy. Whether state officials decide to reduce the number of the more than two dozen 911 call answering centers in Maine, he said, could affect whether the county decides to expand its egional communications center or change its funding formula.