January 28, 2021

County budget proposal up 10%

MACHIAS – The proposed Washington County budget will go to public hearing on Dec. 7 calling for a 10 percent increase in spending and a 5 percent increase in county taxes.

The budget, as proposed by the county budget committee, now stands at $4,371,854 with $3,125,592 of that amount to be raised by taxation.

In a departure from recent years, the 2001 budget committee is recommending that the county use $220,000 of its sizable undesignated surplus to underwrite more than half of the $410,870 in new spending.

Undesignated surpluses are the result of revenues that come in higher than anticipated, or of departments that underspend their budgets. The money carries over into the next year and in Washington County that surplus has been growing.

As of Dec. 31, 1999, the county’s undesignated fund balance was $923,753. Only $200,000 of the surplus was applied to the 1999 budget and State Auditor Gail M. Chase noted in her 1999 audit report that the county should have used an additional $472,000 to offset taxes.

State law permits only two uses of undesignated surplus. The county can restore its contingency fund – in Washington County’s case that is $100,000. And, the county can reserve 10 percent of the amount that will be raised by taxes to keep the county operating until taxes begin coming in.

But after the contingency and the 10 percent, any excess must be put into the budget to reduce the next year’s taxes, according to state statute.

And the county’s additional surplus funds are needed in 2001 to pay for some big-ticket items – some of which have been delayed for years.

The proposed budget includes a $150,000 reserve for expanding the existing courthouse or constructing a new facility to alleviate severe space problems in the county offices.

In October, the commissioners voted to commit county-owned land behind the 147-year-old courthouse for a state-funded expansion of district and superior courts.

The hope is that the county could gain some additional space by adding on to the county offices during that construction. If not, it may be necessary to build a new complex at some point in the future.

The proposed budget also includes $8,000 for new signs in the courthouse to improve accessibility and compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The budget committee is also trying to bring uniformity to insurance coverage for county workers by removing the cap on premium payments for nonunion full-time employees

The county pays 100 percent of the medical insurance premiums for union employees of the sheriff’s department. That agreement is part of the existing contract.

But full-time nonunion employees are paying a portion of their premium – anywhere from $75 a month for single person coverage to $176 for full family coverage.

If the cap is not removed, the employee’s share for 2001 will jump to between $150 to $344 a month, depending on the type of coverage.

The proposed budget also includes $10,000 for a study to determine how best to replace the county’s 25-year-old radio communications equipment and another $20,000 to begin a reserve for the cost of replacement.

The budget committee is recommending that all full-time employees receive a raise of 40 cents an hour and all part-time employees receive a 50-cent-an-hour increase.

The public hearing on the proposed budget will take place at 4 p.m. in the commissioners conference room.

The commissioners can change the budget, but only with the approval of two-thirds of the budget committee, which is made up of municipal officials from seven county towns or cities and Rep. Martha Bagley, D-Machias.

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