County budget review time

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FARMINGTON – The county’s budget process has begun as it usually does, with commissioners cutting requests by area agencies to totals seen last year. And the year before that and so on.

It is a creed of the belt-tightening trio to keep flat funding the charitables while continuing to do battle against the rising cost of most things in the budgets the county’s department heads submit.

New this year is the shift to get fiscally in line with the state after it took on the responsibilities of the county jails’ budget review. Franklin County’s budget for the jail was capped by the Department of Corrections at $1.6 million. The jail’s administrator, Sandra Collins and county clerk, Julie Magoon managed to stay under the DOC’s cap by $17.

While congratulating the pair for staying under the state’s assessed cap, there was the general question of state funding.

“What happens if the state doesn’t pay its part?” Commissioner Fred Hardy asked and then answered himself, “let the prisoners go. They have to stay up at the jail whether we have money or not.”

Because of the fiscal alignment transition, commissioners and the 12 selectmen who make up the county’s budget advisory committee are now working on a six-month budget cycle. Come early spring, they’ll do it all again, only it will be for the following full fiscal year of June 30, 2009 to July 1, 2010.

This week, 12 agencies presented requests for six months of funding totaling $151,269. Some, such as Western Maine Transportation, Tri-County Mental Health Services and Western Maine Community Action requested as much as 25 percent over last year’s request. All were shot down to level funding rates. When the dust settled, the commissioners reached their flat-funding goal by cutting nearly $14,000 in program grant funding.

Earlier this year, Magoon sent out a survey to Franklin County’s municipal officials asking if they support funding the agencies at the county level. The requirements are that the agencies serve all of Franklin County and the funds are to be spent within the county. In exchange for county funding, the agency agrees not to seek funding from the towns and townships.

Nine towns said yes, the county should continue to fund the agencies and six were against it. One town choose some, but not all of the agencies asking for support from the county. Rangeley’s selectmen said they wanted to leave it up to their voters to decide and didn’t wish to comment further.

Avon’s First Selectman Robert Ellis, speaking for the board, said the town of Avon doesn’t support the county continuing to fund the program grants.

“We strongly believe that our small, rural community receives little to no benefit from these grant proposals. We believe we are unfairly being taxed to support the larger urban areas.” He added the agencies should go to each town individually so a judgement can be made locally on the effectiveness of each program to the respective town.

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