MACHIAS, Maine — Trying to create a municipal budget without knowing what state revenue sharing funds will be has the Machias selectmen rolling their eyes in frustration.
Six weeks into the budget process — with nearly all the municipal expenditures reviewed and set — the board hasn’t a clue what state funds will be coming to offset taxation and as a result they opted to postpone the annual town meeting.
Originally set for June 12, the new, temporary date is June 26.
“We still don’t know what Augusta is going to do to us,” Edward Pellon, a member of the Machias budget committee, said Wednesday night.
“I don’t feel comfortable finalizing this budget on a guess,” committee member Nancy Manchester said. “That is not fair to the taxpayers.”
Town Manager Chris Loughlin told the selectmen and budget panel members that Machias should have received $386,000 this year but that in all likelihood, it will be an amount closer to $272,666. Creating a budget and having it printed in the annual town report is further complicated by rules that allow residents at the town meeting to reduce but not increase amounts that can be appropriated, board chairman Aubrey “Skip” Carter explained.
Salaries and other expenses were discussed Wednesday night, with the police chief, town manager and public works director all approved raises in an attempt to bring their salaries up to the county average. The raises ranged from $1,200 to $2,500 annually.
If all other expenditures say the same, Loughlin said, the proposed budget appears to be $915 less than last year’s $1,882,914 budget.
“With the school and town combined, the budget is $20,367 less than last year,” Loughlin said.
Part of this reduction is due to Machias officials’ refusal to fully fund AOS 96 Adult Education. Rather than the original $86,000 that was requested, the board agreed to fund $32,000 of the program. This represents 76 percent of the program’s costs, far more than the 48 percent of the program that Machias residents use, officials pointed out. Board members at last year’s budget workshops asked Director Bonnie Fortini to approach the rest of the AOS communities for their fair share of the program.
Fortini reported to the board that the other communities would not increase their payments. By drastically reducing its share, Fortini said Machias can still keep the program open.
“That amount won’t cause us to close,” she said. “I agree that a reduction by Machias is not only in order but will help show the other towns they must pay their own fair share next year.” Fortini asked the selectmen to “keep your fingers crossed for subsidies and grants.”
Another expenditure that may affect this year’s police budget concerns medical costs that were once paid by the county but are now being billed to the Machias Police Department. Chief Grady Dwelley explained that the department was recently billed $5,000 for medical costs incurred by a person at the jail. Dwelley said the person had been arrested by the Machias Police Department but had not yet appeared before a judge. When the inmate had to have heart ailment treatment at Downeast Community Hospital, the town got the bill.
“This never happened before,” said Dwelley of the cost shifting. Previously, the cost would have been absorbed by the jail, which is administered by the County Sheriff’s Office. “The county is trying to get someone to pay the bill because the state is not,” Dwelley said.
He said that it also falls to the local police department to respond and often guard an unruly patient at Down East Community Hospital in Machias, even if that patient had been arrested by a different agency.
“We are still awaiting payment for $1,800 in labor costs because we supplied an officer to guard a patient that had been arrested by the county and was tearing up the ER,” Dwelley said. “This could start eating us up alive.”
Budget committee member Pellon said, “We, the town, pay county taxes and we have as much right to a deputy as any town.”
Loughlin said he would look into the billing situation.