County commissioners sign county and Unorganized Territory budgets
DOVER-FOXCROFT — A $4.8 million-plus Piscataquis County budget for 2020, along with a $1,804,670 Unorganized Territory budget for the 2020-21 fiscal year, were both formally approved and signed by the county commissioners during a Dec. 10 meeting.
“The proposed 2020 county budget totals $4,832,433, which is an increase of $296,475 (6.5 percent) over the current budget year total of $4,535,958,” County Manager Michael Williams said during a public hearing last month.
After revenues, the amount to be raised by taxes is $4,169,806 or $349,265 (7 percent) more than the $3.8 million-plus in 2019. This amount is split with $2,774,124 to be spread across the 19 county towns and plantations and the other near $1.4 million coming from the Unorganized Territories — an approximate respective two thirds to one third split.
Every town but Willimantic would see an increase in county taxes with this amount ranging from nearly $2,000 more for Wellington to $35,600 total, $31,450 more for Dover-Foxcroft’s $497,846 and a figure of just under $144,000 for Kingsbury Plantation’s $183,370 share of the county tax which is from a windmill project more than quadrupling the community valuation from the previous budget year.
The Unorganized Territory budget of a little more than $1.8 million is up by $48,013 (2.7 percent) from the current spending plan.
In other business, the commissioners authorized Sheriff Robert Young to sign a lease for the patrol and investigation divisions of the Piscataquis County Sheriff’s Office to remain at the former Guilford Primary School building through the middle of next year.
“It’s a 6-month commitment and then it’s month to month,” Young said. “For us six months is good and for them six months is good.”
Last month a sale closed on the building with Friends of Community Fitness purchasing the structure from owner Clark’s Enterprises.
County Manager Michael Williams asked Young if he could see if the lease could be for seven months, as of Dec. 1. He said the county is negotiating with the owner of another commercial building in Guilford for this to become the permanent home of the patrol and investigation divisions.
“The offer has been submitted to the building realtor who has submitted it to the owner and all we’re waiting for now is a yeah or neigh back,” Williams said.
“The town of Guilford was very gracious to us in offering the (C.H. Lightbody Medical Center on Park Street),” Commissioners Chair James White said, as earlier this year county officials looked to move the patrol and investigation divisions there from the former primary school. He said in the middle of the process the county found another location that would better suit the needs of the sheriff’s office.
“The town of Guilford was very gracious in letting us back out of verbal agreement,” White said. He said between now and late June the plan is for the patrol and investigation divisions to remain at the current location. This would allow for ample negotiation time on the other building and to prepare a June referendum on a structure purchase.
To alleviate cramped conditions and lack of privacy inside the main sheriff’s office in the same larger complex as the Piscataquis County Jail on Court Street in Dover-Foxcroft, in the spring of 2018 the patrol and investigation divisions moved up Route 15 to Guilford at the former primary school building. The law enforcement space previously was the home of the SAD 4 administrative office suite.
With the school building placed up for sale, county officials had been working with the town on an agreement to rent and then purchase, following an affirmative vote at the annual town meeting in mid-March, the C.H. Lightbody Medical Center at 3 Park Street. In April Mayo Regional Hospital closed its primary care office in Guilford after experiencing significant provider turnover in the previous year and a half. Guilford Medical Associates was housed there via a lease with the town.
The commissioners also appointed Commissioner Wayne Erkkinen as the representative to the 2020 Maine County Commissioners Association board of directors.
According to its website at mainecounties.org, the Maine County Commissioners Association was founded in 1890. The vision statement says state county governments are a well-respected network of regional governments that have the authority to recognize and solve regional issues. The Maine County Commissioners Association provides relevant (vital) services to citizens in a responsive, efficient, credible manner. The organization mission statement says it works to make this vision a reality through communication and cooperation by and among all departments of all counties.
White said Piscataquis County will remain a member for the time being with the Maine County Commissioners Association having made adjustments with its organization, policy and personnel. “Over these next few months we will see how these changes work out,” he said. “As it stands I think we will see tremendous improvement.”
One concern cited was the per capita expense, as member fees for Piscatquis County were similar to those of Cumberland County.
“We’re paying 62 cents per person in the county and they’re paying 6 cents,” Erkkinen said last month about annual dues based on respective populations of 16,000-plus and near 294,000 in Piscataquis and Cumberland counties.
“It was costing the county a lot of money for representation working against our interests,” White said as the Maine County Commissioners Association executive committee makes a number of decisions for the organization and Piscataquis County was not represented on this sub-group.
A 60-day notice is required to withdraw from the Maine County Commissioners Association. As a member, Piscataquis County is part of the organization insurance pool and shares other services, such as with the registry of deeds.