MACHIAS, Maine — Washington County employees would get their biggest pay raise in three years under the county budget that begins Jan. 1.
The budget, approved by a 3-0 vote of the Washington County commissioners earlier this month, is predicated on awarding county employees a 3 percent pay raise although agreements have not been finalized with the three unions that represent them.
“The commissioners want to treat everybody the same,” County Administrator Betsy Fitzgerald said Tuesday in discussing the 2014 budget and the offer of a 3 percent pay increase.
County officials reached a signed agreement on those terms with the union representing about a dozen law enforcement enforcement officers, according to Fitzgerald. However, they are still negotiating with the union representing about 50 county jail and communications center employees and have not heard back from the union that represents about five clerical employees.
County employees received a 2 percent pay raise in the current budget and a 1 percent increase in the 2012 budget, according to Fitzgerald.
The proposed budget called for increasing spending 3 percent over the current budget, but the final, approved budget increases spending by less than 1 percent — 0.8 percent, to be precise.
“We found a calculation error that helped,” said Fitzgerald.
“Another thing that helped,” said Fitzgerald, was a 3.4 percent increase in health insurance costs. County officials had assembled the proposed budget based on projections that the health insurance increase would be “more than double that,” said Fitzgerald.
“We try to do the best we can as we start the process,” she added.
Spending will increase from the current $5,792,431 budget by an additional $111,008 to $5,903,439 in 2014. Revenues raised by taxation will increase by $42,192, from $5,207,227 to $5,249,419.
Towns and cities likely will see a slight increase in their tax bills, acknowledged Fitzgerald, although another factor in those bills is property valuations, she noted. “It’s a pretty minimal increase,” said Fitzgerald.
Sheriff Donnie Smith had requested $25,000 for professional services, largely for legal counsel. However, his request was turned down. Instead, he was allocated about $5,000-$6,000 for professional services. Additional funds were allocated to the county administration account for legal services, but Smith would have to go through the commissioners to tap those funds.
The sheriff needs to involve the commissioners in any requests for legal services, said Fitzgerald. “They need to be kept apprised of whatever is going on,” she said.
The budget committee debated at its first meeting in late September whether Smith should have control over money spent for legal counsel or whether they should be handled — and approved — through the county administration, which has oversight of spending for legal fees by the county’s various departments. Ultimately, the panel agreed his request for legal services should go through the county administrator’s office, said Fitzgerald. Smith, who had argued at the September session for the funds to be included in his budget, indicated Tuesday he had no dispute with the committee’s recommendation.
The county’s budget committee met three times over several weeks before the commissioners adopted the budget at their Nov. 14 meeting.
“The commissioners are very appreciative of the time and effort the budget committee members commit to the process,” said Fitzgerald, and they “take the input from the budget committee quite seriously.”
She also singled out Milbridge Town Manager Lewis Pinkham, who served as chairman of the budget committee. “He has consistently managed the process very fairly,” said Fitzgerald.