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Commissioners approve U.T. budget, send it to the state

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FARMINGTON – County commissioners approved a $1.35 million Unorganized Territory budget for 2020-21 at Tuesday’s meeting. The budget will go next to the state’s fiscal administrator for the U.T. for review, followed by the Legislature for final approval.

The $1,353,240 budget represents an increase of roughly $190,000 over the current fiscal year, or 16.3 percent. After accounting for revenue, the budget would require a tax assessment of $1.18 million, an increase over last year’s $977,000. Even with the increase, County Clerk Julie Magoon said Tuesday, the U.T. would be under the LD1 cap.

The largest piece of the increase is an $111,000 appropriation to pay for a deputy position and a cruiser to patrol the U.T. That change reflects alterations in how the Maine State Police, which previously split patrol duties with the FCSO, handles calls in Franklin County. Other counties have made similar moves; Somerset County currently has a deputy position dedicated to the UT.

Commissioner Terry Brann of Wilton and Commissioner Charlie Webster of Farmington, both supportive of the proposed budget, said that they were disappointed in the state not prioritizing additional funding for Maine State Police patrols.

“The state dropped the ball,” Brann said.

Another significant increase relates to snow removal contract lines, which increased by roughly $50,000 to $545,000. That increase relates to the West Freeman contract increasing from last year’s $37,500 to roughly $87,000. Commissioners opted to split the West Freeman plowing contract out of the Freeman-Salem contract two years ago; at the most recent discussion on the subject, commissioners suggested recombining the contracts in the future.

In other business, commissioners approved a $30,000 bid from Clearwater Counseling and Consulting, operated by Dalene Sinskie, to provide mental health and substance abuse counseling services at Franklin County Detention Center. The six-month contract will bring the county back in line for a July-June contract. After that point, it is anticipated the contract will go back out to bid.

The county terminated its contract with Evergreen Behavioral Services back in September, after personnel turnover resulted in that organization not being able to provide the jail with access to the certified personnel as required by state corrections regulations. Since then, the jail has been receiving services through Sinskie, who previously worked in the jail through Evergreen.

Commissioners also approved the hiring of Austin Couture, a Wilton resident and Rumford Police Department employee, as a Franklin County Sheriff’s Office patrol deputy. That hiring is effective today in a part-time capacity; Couture will join the FCSO in a full-time capacity on Jan. 1, filling a vacant position.

Couture has his certification through the Criminal Justice Academy. The county will need to pay an estimated $24,000 to Rumford, partially compensating that municipality for the expense of the training.

Commissioners also instructed Magoon to draft letters to three nonprofits that were awarded funding during the previous budget process, informing them that requests will not be considered this year. Western Maine Community Action, Western Maine Transportation and SeniorsPlus were to be appropriated $30,000, $10,000 and $1, respectively, by the Budget Committee through the budget process. Commissioners Brann and Webster, citing a previous goal of eliminating nonprofit funding at the county level, have not released that funding.

Letters indicating that future requests will not be considered will be sent to WMCA, Western Maine Transportation and SeniorsPlus. Letters will not be sent to Franklin County Soil & Water or the Firemen’s Benevolent Association, the two other organizations that receive funding through the Programs & Grants cost center. The county also funds the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, which has an office in Farmington, under a separate funding line.

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