County commissioners discuss possible changes to board and committee structures

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FARMINGTON – The Franklin County Commissioners met on Tuesday, Dec 6, starting the meeting at 2 p.m. with an executive session for a grievance negotiation with the union. Following the executive session they held a brief recess before opening the regular meeting around 3 p.m.

After some discussion, Commissioner Bob Carlton was appointed to the NorthStar Advisory Board in a 2-1 vote. NorthStar Director Mike Senecal had reached out to Carlton, who referred him to the county administrator, specifically requesting that Carlton serve on the advisory board.

Commissioner Terry Brann noted that he has never seen a request for a specific person to serve on an advisory board before, and that he found it strange. Typically, the request would be for a member of the commissioners board to represent the county on the other board, and the commissioners would determine who would fill that role.

Carlton said that he is familiar with NorthStar and with emergency medical services from his forty years in the fire service; while he was specifically requested to serve on the board, that seat could be filled by any one of the commissioners.

After confirming with the county administrator, Amy Bernard, that Carlton could vote on his own appointment, Commissioner Lance Harvell made a motion to appoint Carlton; Carlton seconded the motion. Both Harvell and Carlton voted in favor while Brann abstained from the vote.
The county has not had a representative on the NorthStar Advisory Board in the past, Bernard said.

The commissioners entered into an agreement with the Maine County Commissioners Association in the previous meeting. With that agreement, the county is allowed one seat on the Board of Directors, and one proxy. The commissioners appointed Tiffany Baker, deputy county administrator, to serve as the director and Bernard to serve as the proxy. The MCCA RIsk Pool also allowed one Board of Directors seat and one proxy; Bernard was appointed as the director and Baker as the proxy. For these boards, if the director is unable to attend a meeting, the proxy can vote on behalf of the county.

Several years ago the decision was made by the budget committee to remove the flex dollars benefit for the county commissioners from the budget. That benefit has not been funded, but it is still included in the personnel policy. Changing the policy has some difficulties, legally speaking; the lawyer advised that the change should apply to future board members, not standing board members as it is a legal ‘gray area’ for elected officials to take office and then have their benefits removed.

One suggestion was to set the flex dollar benefits at ‘zero’ in the personnel policy, to take effect in 2024 when the board expands to five members and all five seats will be up for election.

“Is it this hard to not pay yourself?” Harvell asked. He made a motion to table the issue, which was unanimously approved.

Drafts of two separate legislation requests were presented to the commissioners.

Currently, the budget committee has to have a two-thirds majority vote to overrule the county commissioners, while the county commissioners must have a unanimous vote to overrule the budget committee. Harvell proposed a change to a three-fifths vote for the county commissioners, effective with the redistricting to five county districts in 2024. Alternatively, he suggested that the budget committee be required to have a unanimous vote to overrule the commissioners, so that the voting weight of each group was about equal.

This prompted a discussion about the possibility of reducing the number of budget committee members. Currently there are three committee members for each of the three districts and there were no changes in the legislation about this, which would seem to imply that there should be three committee members for each of the soon-to-be five districts. A suggestion was made to request a reduction from three to two per district, with a net result of one new person on the committee.

The other legislation request was for the Maine Judicial Branch to enter into a cost-sharing agreement with the county for expenses related to the courthouse. According to state statute written in 1976, the county is obligated to provide space in the county courthouse for the Maine Judicial Branch at no charge. The request is that the state would enter into cost-sharing with the county for supplies, cleaning, maintenance, and other expenses at a rate per square foot to be negotiated with the county.

These requests have been discussed with Rep. Scott Landry of Farmington, who is expected to present them to the legislature.

In other business, the commissioners approved the purchase of two 2022 cruisers for the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office. The opportunity came up to purchase two cruisers that had been ordered by another municipality which did not take ownership of the vehicles. Estimated costs for the 2023 models are nearly $10,000 more than the 2022 vehicles. Previously, the commissioners had allocated American Rescue Plan Act funds for purchasing and outfitting five new hybrid cruisers, but there have been challenges in actually locating the cruisers to purchase. These two cruisers will be purchased using that previously allocated fund.

In addition, the commissioners approved the next step in a medical space expansion at the county jail. The expansion will add a total of 450 square feet to the jail and will, in conjunction with rearrangements of the existing space, create a larger infirmary and two cell areas attached to the infirmary for inmates who are ill. The cost is estimated around $180,000. The next phase is to write bid documents for the project.

This meeting was recorded by Mt. Blue TV and may be viewed online at mtbluetv.org

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