County requests legal opinion of budget process
FARMINGTON - The county's attorney will review the Franklin County budget process, following a decision by the budget committee to overturn three of four commissioner recommendations at their final meeting.
At the June 28 meeting, the budget committee voted to alter three of the four line items set by commissioners at their June 19 meeting. Those alterations impacted county support to Western Maine Transportation and SAVES as well as a project to repave the Church Street parking lot, marking the end of an at-times contentious process to set the $5.29 million budget.
On June 7, committee members voted to make roughly $85,000 in cuts to the county budget. These included cuts to WMT, SAVES and the Church Street parking lot, but also reductions to the flex benefits of part-time elected officials; specifically the three commissioners and county treasurer. Those positions previously received 70 percent of the health insurance coverage of a full-time employee, with that flex benefit also available in the form of other benefits if not used for insurance. The committee reduced the budget lines for commissioner and treasurer benefits by $14,562 and $6,368 respectively, with the stated goal of reducing that flex benefit to 35 percent of a full-time employee.
At their June 19 meeting, commissioners voted unanimously on several line items, restoring roughly $47,000 of the committee's cuts. Commissioner Gary McGrane of Jay took issue with the committee setting individual line items of the budget. Commissioner Clyde Barker of Strong joined with McGrane in decrying the committee adjusting the benefits of elected positions, calling it a micromanagement of a basic county function.
The committee addressed all four line item changes made by commissioners at their June 28 meeting, altering three of them. At the conclusion of the meeting, roughly half of the members addressed McGrane's issue with line-by-line budget changes, saying they felt it was their responsibility as the representatives of the public in the process. Committee members Tim DeMillo of Jay, Ryan Morgan of Farmington, D. Scott Taylor of Wilton and Terry Brann of Wilton all addressed the issue, indicating their support for the process.
Tuesday, County Clerk Julie Magoon said that the county's legal counsel had been asked to review the process. Attorney Frank Underkuffler will look at whether the budget committee had control of individual line items or should focus instead on the less specific department and overall budgets. Additionally, he will also research who has the authority to set the salary and benefits of both elected and appointed officials.
The question is a complex one. Each county is governed by its own statutes, all of which can be changed only by the state Legislature. Certain positions are covered under separate statutes, such as the sheriff's position, while some counties set parameters for all of their elected officials.
In other business, commissioners approved a request for proposals for the design of the new dispatch center. Those bids will be due July 20, and commissioners intend to discuss them at a special meeting on July 24.