Washington County proposed budget calls for more tax revenue

Posted Sept. 06, 2013, at 3:55 p.m.

MACHIAS, Maine — The proposed county budget presented to the Washington County commissioners this week would increase spending more than 2 percent — by $194,400 — to $5,986,831.

An additional $121,885 would have to be raised by taxes compared to the current budget.

“I am never pleased,” Commissioner Chris Gardner said of seeking more tax revenue. However, he called the proposed $121,885 increase “at least manageable, as a start.”

The proposed spending plan, assembled by county manager Betsy Fitzgerald with the help of department heads, will be massaged by the county’s budget committee before it is finalized.

In the proposal, Sheriff Donnie Smith requested $52,532 more for the next fiscal year that starts on Jan. 1 compared with the current budget — $810,563 compared with $758,031. He asked for $25,000 in the next budget for professional services, a line item that was unfunded in 2012 and 2013 but has cost nearly $6,000 in the current fiscal year. Professional services include legal fees, if needed, and maintenance for buildings and grounds, according to Smith.

Smith also requested an increase in spending for telephone service, from $8,500 to $14,000, and $1,850 for postage, a line item that has cost less than $60 so far this year.

The proposed budget also includes an increase of $58,472 for employee benefits. Although health insurance costs are projected to decline by more than $13,000, the county’s FICA match will increase by $55,366, and contributions to the Maine State Retirement System will increase by $20,381.

The proposed budget is “meant to be a starting point,” Gardner said at the outset of the meeting, and the figures are far from final.

“We defer greatly to the budget committee,” Gardner said.

“They have the final word,” said Commissioner John Crowley.

Technically, the budget panel can overrule the commission if it chooses, said Gardner.

Lewis Pinkam of Milbridge, chairman of the budget committee, encouraged commissioners to participate in the budget process by attending committee meetings. “I think it makes it a lot better process,” he said, if commissioners are active in the committee’s deliberations.

These are not “easy times” for government budgets, Gardner said.

“This will not be easy,” he said.

The commission heard from representatives of four nonprofit organizations soliciting funds in next year’s budget — the Washington County Firefighters Association, Downeast Institute for Applied Marine Research and Education, Next Step, and Machias Adult and Community Education.

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