County officials considering $4.5M budget for 2019

DOVER-FOXCROFT — A proposed $4,535,958 Piscataquis County budget for the 2019 calendar year, along with an Unorganized Territory (UT) budget of $1,756,657 for the 2019-20 fiscal year, was presented at a public hearing on Nov. 26 as part of the process by county officials for developing the pair of spending plans.

“Let me say it right up front, this is a very unusual budget,” County Manager Tom Lizotte said. He explained that there are a number of increases in the county budget, and the UT expenses are also up because of Atkinson residents voting 187-19 earlier in the month to deorganize and become part of the UT as of July 1, 2019.

“Adding Atkinson has had a profound impact,” Lizotte said. He said the UT population is around 770, and this figure will increase by 30 percent with the addition of the 200-plus residents of Atkinson. The county manager said Atkinson town roads will increase the number of miles of travelways in the UT from around 75 to 100 miles.

“We have seen this coming for years, but still when you look at the budget documents it is startling,” Lizotte said.

“Overall the county budget is $4,535,958, that is an increase of $288,844 or 6.8 percent over the current budget year total of $4,247,114,” he said. Lizotte said the increase is about twice the typical rise in year to year county finances.

A total of $3,820,541 would need to be raised in taxes from the 19 municipalities for the county budget, up by about $327,000 from the current calendar year.

The proposed 2019 county budget includes a payscale adjustment for union sheriff’s department employees and a 3 percent wage increase for all non-union employees.

“This is the first time the patrol division has gone over the $1 million mark,” Lizotte said. This part of the sheriff’s department budget totals $1,022,118, an increase of $122,558 or 13.6 percent from 2018.

In addition to the payscale adjustment, the increase is due to the need to budget $55,000 ($40,000 more than the previous year) to replace two patrol cruisers in the vehicle fleet and the addition of $14,900 for the annual lease for office space in Guilford.

“The office complex here, that the sheriff’s department has been struggling with since the 1980s, has been addressed,” Lizotte said, as the patrol division now has ample space to work with in the facility that formerly was the site of the SAD 4 superintendent’s office.

A sixth patrol deputy has been added to the sheriff’s department, with the position to start halfway through the next budget year. At the same time a current deputy is expected to return from his active-duty military assignment to bring the department back to a full staffing level.

A half dozen deputies would avoid situations with only one officer on patrol at night. “That would allow us at night to work both sides of the county,” Sheriff-Elect and current Chief Deputy Bob Young said.

The telecommunications division of the sheriff’s department has a proposed budget of $673,730, up by $34,140 for dispatch center operations. Most of the rise in division costs are for a five-year lease for new radio communications equipment, with a $25,800 annual cost for the next half decade.

For the Piscataquis County Jail budget, the maximum 4 percent allowed by law under the state tax cap has been included to increase the cap by $37,960 to $986,975.

“The county budget advisory committee fully supported all these increases and unanimously supported the addition of the new patrol deputy,” Lizotte said.

“Outside the sheriff’s department, there are not too many personnel changes we are looking at,” he said.

One adjustment is for a position that had been shared by the Piscatquis County Emergency Management Agency and the registry probate at a respective four/one day split. Next year the position will be five days with emergency management and the registry would add a part-time, per diem employee.

“Overall if you go through all the departments you will see an increase in health insurance,” Lizotte said. A 9 percent, $66,000, increase for health insurance has been included in the budget.

The 2019-20 UT budget is $1,756,657, an increase of $267,894 (18 percent) from the current fiscal year. “Seventy five percent of the increase in the UT budget is tied to Atkinson joining the Unorganized Territory,” the county manager said.

Taking on the provision of municipal services to Atkinson increases the UT budget by $202,500. Without this change the spending plan would have risen by nearly $65,400 or 4.3 percent, which Lizotte said is a fairly standard increase.

“I would like to publicly thank the members of the budget advisory committee,” the county manager said.

The nine members began to review the budget numbers the second week of October and finished about a month later over the course of four meetings.

The county and UT budgets are scheduled to be on the commissioners’ agenda for the Tuesday, Dec. 4 meeting. A formal vote to accept needs to be made by the end of the year, and the commissioners could opt to sign the financial documents during their Dec. 18 session if a decision is not made on Dec. 4.

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