Commissioners restore some county budget cuts
FARMINGTON - County commissioners opted to restore $47,380 to the 2012-2013 county budget Tuesday, in a discussion that encompassed many different aspects of the county budget process. The nine-member budget committee will have the final say on the reinstated funding.
At the June 7 budget meeting, the committee opted to cut roughly $85,000 out of the $5.27 million budget. Major cuts included $24,000 slated for repairs to the Church Street parking lot and $23,500 out of the $98,500 recommended by commissioners for the purchase of new cruisers for the Franklin County Sheriff's Department. Another $21,000 was cut out of the commissioner and county treasurer budget lines, representing a reduction in flex benefits for those positions. The remaining $17,000 in reductions were implemented under Programs & Grants; cuts were made by the committee to Western Maine Transportation, SAVES, Tri-County Mental Health and Adult Education.
Commissioners reacted to the budget committee's cuts and comments Tuesday morning. Commissioner Gary McGrane of Jay and Commissioner Clyde Barker of Strong both spoke out against the commissioner flex benefit cuts. The budget committee cut $14,562 out of that line; reducing the commissioners' health coverage from 70 percent to 35 percent.
"I don't think it's fair," Barker said, calling the action a "slap in the face." He also addressed an argument made by some members of the public and committee members that equated selectmen to commissioners: "I feel the commissioner's job is a lot different from the selectman's job."
McGrane said he was "dismayed" by the actions of the budget committee, both toward the flex benefits and other budget lines, saying the committee was trying to direct county policy by setting values to individual budget lines.
"If they want to set policy they should consider running for county commissioner," McGrane said. "Dictating policy" by making line-by-line adjustments shouldn't be authorized, he added.
While Commissioner Fred Hardy of New Sharon disagreed with some actions by the committee, he said he would support the cut to commissioner flex benefits. "I certainly wasn't going to go against the budget committee on that decision," Hardy said.
According to statute, commissioners may alter a committee-approved budget only by an unanimous vote. However, the statute as referenced by County Clerk Julie Magoon is unclear as to the exact format of that action. McGrane supported rejecting the entire budget unanimously and allowing Chair John Calloway, who attended the meeting, to take the commissioners' general reactions back to the budget committee. Hardy pushed instead to send only individual alterations to line items back to the committee, which had been the past practice of commissioners. That line-by-line method was the decision supported by Calloway.
"I'd hate to see us open that whole can of worms," Calloway said. "I'd rather go worm by worm."
Calloway did say he was willing to reconsider the flex benefits cut at the budget committee's next meeting if commissioners reinstated funding, suggesting that setting salary and benefits of a county government position might have been "micromanaging."
"It's not our place to do it," Calloway said. "It's the tail wagging the dog."
Barker and McGrane supported reinstating the flex benefits budget line for commissioners, but Hardy's "no" vote prevented the alteration from being made. Hardy and Barker did support making a small adjustment to the county treasurer's flex benefits line, after Magoon said an error made during the budget meeting had led to too much being cut, but McGrane voted against that action.
Commissioners did unanimously reinstate $24,000 in funds earmarked for the Church Street parking lot. County employees informed commissioners that four holes had opened up in the pavement, with some sort of space washing out beneath it. Barker questioned if an old culvert lay beneath the parking lot but, in any case, suggested the county would be liable if someone got hurt in the lot due to holes through the pavement.
Commissioners also added $17,000 to the Franklin County Sheriff's Department vehicle line; increasing it from $75,000 to $92,000. Those funds would cover the purchase of four Interceptors, Sheriff Dennis Pike said, a Ford Taurus-inspired design with the all-wheel drive. The FCSD bought two vehicles this year, one fewer than usual due to higher-than-anticipated bids, and Pike said it was "rather critical" to buy four this year to catch back up with the vehicle rotation schedule.
In the Programs & Grants sections, commissioners reinstated Western Maine Transportation to $20,000 and SAVES to $11,380. That $6,380 increase restores those programs to the previous year's level of funding.
The budget committee will take up the changes made by commissioners at its next meeting, which has not been scheduled. Committee members must override commissioner changes by a vote of at least 6 to 3 in order to overturn an alteration.