Committee sets county budget
FARMINGTON - Franklin County's budget was set Thursday evening, with the committee choosing to alter three line items set by commissioners.
The $5.29 million budget represents the conclusion of an active budget process, during which commissioners and the committee made up of nine selectmen from Franklin County towns went back and forth on a number of issues. The committee gets the final say on the budget, voting to approve or alter changes made by unanimous votes of the board of commissioners at their June 19 meeting. At that meeting, commissioners made four changes to the $5.27 million budget previously recommended by the committee: adding $24,000 to the budget to repave the Church Street parking lot, allotting $92,000 to buy four cruisers for the Franklin County Sheriff's Department, rather than $75,000, and restoring $6,380 in cuts to Western Maine Transportation and SAVES.
Those four line items were the only aspects of the budget considered by the committee. Altering a line item set by the commissioners requires the support of at least six budget committee members.
The parking lot has become an evolving issue as the months-long budget process has unfolded. According to Greg Roux with Franklin County's maintenance department, the lot has now developed a series of sinkholes. At the June 19 meeting, following a vote by the budget committee to allocate zero dollars for the project, commissioners put $24,000 back into the budget to tear up and repave the lot. Commissioners cited a concern that someone could be hurt in the lot and the county would be liable, a concern shared by some budget committee members Thursday.
Roux said he had continued to fill the holes with sand, but each rainstorm washed them clear again. County officials know an old house stood at that site at one point; some people who examined the holes saw brickwork. Committee members voted to budget $5,000 for that line, rather than the full $24,000, with those funds going toward discovering and fixing the source of the problem beneath the lot and repairing the damage created by the exploration. The parking lot will then be reviewed next year for repaving.
The committee did not alter the $92,000 figure set by commissioners for the purchase of FCSD vehicles. Those funds would cover the purchase of four Interceptors, Sheriff Dennis Pike told the committee, a Ford Taurus-inspired design with the all-wheel drive. Four vehicles would get the FCSD back onto the three-vehicle-a-year rotation schedule it had been maintaining four years, Pike noted, after the department bought two vehicles this year due to higher-than-anticipated bids.
Some committee members supported the shift toward a sedan chassis, rather than the SUV-style vehicles the department has been using for their all-wheel drive capability. Interceptors are expected to cost the county roughly $22,000, compared to $33,000 for the larger vehicles. While a committee vote to approve a $92,000 budget failed, five to two, to reach a six-vote majority, the commissioners' budget was already $92,000, rendering the committee's vote moot.
Commissioners had originally approved providing Western Maine Transportation with $20,000, one of several organizations supported by the county budget. The budget committee cut that to $15,000 and was later overruled by an unanimous vote by commissioners. Thursday, budget committee members reiterated earlier concerns that the green buses used by Western Maine Transportation were sometimes seen running empty. Craig Zurhorst, WMT's Community Relations Director, said that the buses may be empty briefly, to pick up new passengers, but generally saw high traffic.
The budget committee, who requested more detailed financial information in the future, chose to cut $1,000 out of the $20,000 budget. Zurhorst said the cut was the equivalent of losing $5,000, due to the matching federal funding the organization received.
The committee removed $1,380 from the SAVES budget once again, overruling a commissioner decision to restore that agency to $11,380. Committee members noted that the $10,000 the agency would receive was the same amount as Children's Task Force.
In all, the committee cut $21,380 from the commissioners' $5.31 million proposed budget.