FARMINGTON – Two commissioners expressed dissatisfaction with a $6.75 million budget advanced by the Franklin County Budget Committee but ultimately made few changes at Tuesday’s meeting.Last week, the committee approved a $4.5 million county budget and $2.2 jail budget; roughly in line with the commissioners’ $6.75 million budget and up from the present fiscal year’s $6.56 million budget. The committee’s budget included a 3 percent salary increase for nonunion employees, as well as increases for two outside agencies: $30,000 for Western Maine Community Action and $10,000 for Western Maine Transportation.Commissioner Charlie Webster of Farmington said that he was disappointed in the committee’s budget. He disagreed with the 3 percent increase, preferring a previously-discussed 2 percent increase for nonunion staff, and did not want to fund Western Maine Transportation and WMCA. Those agencies wanted to be politicians, Webster said, and were paying salaries that were too high for the local area.Commissioner Terry Brann of Wilton also disagreed with the increased funding for the outside agencies, which he said acted as “enablers” for some residents.Both commissioners noted that they had previously indicated that it had been their goal to completely defund most of the Program Grants lines by this year. Webster pointed to increases in other areas, such as the jail budget, and said that the county had to prioritize where to spend money. The agencies should approach the towns, Webster said, and ask them for funding directly.Commissioner Clyde Barker of Strong was not in agreement with the other commissioners, saying that he felt the budget committee had “really worked hard this year.”“People from my district voted for the budget,” Barker said, referring to the members of the committee. “I can’t vote any different.”That set off a series of 2 to 1 votes on the WMCA, Western Maine Transportation and SeniorsPlus – which was funded at $1 by the committee to preserve their appearance in future budgets – with Webster and Brann in favor of zero dollars and Barker opposed. As a result of those non-unanimous votes, the budget committee’s numbers will stand.Whether the organizations receive the funds over the next fiscal year remains to be seen. Commissioners have not released $18,750 of the $25,000 approved for WMCA this fiscal year; $6,250 in total had been paid out according to Deputy Treasurer/Deputy Clerk Vickie Braley. Later in Tuesday’s meeting, Barker argued that the county should release the rest of those funds. Webster disagreed, saying that the money would only support wages for WMCA staff, not leverage additional grant funding.Commissioners did make two unanimous changes to the budget: they added $1,000 to the Franklin County Soil & Water line, bringing it up to $21,000; and added $323 to Probate Court lines associated with the clerk’s salary.The Probate Court change simply corrects a previous error; commissioners felt that the alteration should be advanced to the budget committee as that group would need to convene anyway to address the Soil & Water budget. Commissioners added the $1,000 to that organization’s line after learning that the program’s executive director hadn’t received any pay increases for some time. Their proposed $21,000 budget for the line was cut back down to $20,000 by the budget committee earlier this month.To reverse the commissioners’ changes, the committee would need to vote by a two-thirds majority for their original figures.County Clerk Julie Magoon also pointed out two adjustments that related to spreadsheet issues: a small modification to the Communications budget and the inclusion of a previously-discussed $2,000 increase to the county’s insurance lines. The amounts voted on by the budget committee were correct, but the bottom-line figure for the budget went up slightly as a result.In total, the budget approved by commissioners totaled $6,751,545, adding the jail and county budgets together. Commissioners also approved using $150,000 from the Undesignated Fund to help defray the budget’s impact on local assessments.Commissioners did move, by a 2 to 1 vote with Barker opposed, to set the salary increases of nonunion, non-elected employees at 2 percent. As most of the budget lines are now set, this would mean that the roughly $12,000 increase proposed by the budget committee to fund the 3 percent salary increases will not be spent for that purpose.Commissioners set the salary increases for four elected officials: the Register of Probate, the Register of Deeds, the Treasurer and the Sheriff at 1 percent. Alternately, commissioners could meet with those four individuals to negotiate salaries over the course of their entire term, similar to how they negotiated with the Judge of Probate.
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