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County commissioners review updated budgets for unorganized territories

6 mins read

FARMINGTON – The Franklin County Commissioners held a public hearing on the preliminary budget for the Unorganized Territories during their meeting Tuesday, November 7.

During the public hearing, County Administrator Amy Bernard explained that following a meeting the week before with several service providers for the UT, changes were made to the budget requests for fiscal year 2024.

Thursday, November 2, Bernard and the commissioners raised concerns about some of the increase, which did not have supporting evidence to explain why they were proposed. The figures for NorthStar and Eustis Fire were adjusted by the end of the Thursday meeting, and the Phillips select board held a special meeting on Monday, November 6 to review the UT budget.

The updated budget, shared Tuesday, included a decrease from the Town of Phillips from $42,967.50 to $32,825.00 for waste disposal services for Madrid Township for FY 2024. This is still an increase from the budget for FY 2023, which was $22,935.08. The FY 2022 budget was for $14,504.00.

Phillips also reduced the budget lines for fire protection services in Madrid Township and Salem Township.

For Madrid Township, Phillips reduced the budget from $38,970.00 to $27,300.00 for FY 2024. This is an increase from $18,282.37 in FY 2023.

For Salem, the costs are divided between three towns, Kingfield, Strong, and Phillips, which all provide fire protection services to Salem Township. The total budget request for Salem Township was for $65,000 which has now been reduced to $46,800.00. Bernard reported following the meeting that this is divided out with $20,000 to both Kingfield and Phillips, and $6,800 for Strong. This is the same funding breakdown that was agreed upon for FY 2023. Prior to FY 2023, the county paid $26,588.00 to the Salem Fire Department for fire protection services.

One of the challenges that the Phillips board reported in compiling the UT budgets is increased costs of services, along with increased usage of those services, and a long wait period before the budget goes into effect. The county’s UT budget has to be submitted to the state in November 2023 to start in July 2024, while the towns which provide services to the UT through a contract with the county may be just three or four months into their current fiscal year when the county requests budgets for the next fiscal year.

The county UT budget cannot pay for capital expenses in the towns that provide essential services under a contract. The UT budget can only pay for the costs of services provided.

The preliminary UT budget for FY 2024, which will be reviewed by the state, is $2,079,624.95 while FY 2023 was $1,769,484.81.

In other business, the commissioners held a public hearing on amendments to the TIF. The Tax Increment Financing was originally established in 2008 for the Kibby Mountain Wind Power Project, with a span of 26 years. This would be the fifth amendment in the last 15 years.

Earlier this summer a request was made to amend the TIF to include childcare facilities as an eligible TIF project, but it was brought to the county’s attention that there were additional projects that the Legislature recently added to the list of options for TIF districts. These include:

– Transit-oriented development within the district.
– Recreational trail development within the district.
– Financing costs, professional services costs, and organization costs related to the district.
– Affordable housing within the district.
– Affordable housing outside of the district – to serve economic development or assist with homelessness.
– Environmental improvements.
– Quality childcare and adult care facilities.
– Public safety facilities related to economic development – not to exceed 15% CAV.

Amending the TIF to include these categories does not mean that projects have to be funded, and it does not mean that the county will set aside a certain amount for each of the new categories. It allows the county more flexibility if a project in one of these categories is proposed.

“I really appreciate you going ahead and expanding this,” Fen Fowler said. Fowler asked if the commissioners have plans to expand the advisory board membership to include members with specialities in these new areas.

No action was taken on expanding the membership of the committee.

“The one thing that I was adamant about was if this is going to be for the UT, it’s going to be the UT,” Commissioner Bob Carlton said. Carlton, who lives in Freeman Township, served on the TIF committee prior to running for county commissioner. “I don’t want to lose sight, even with this amendment, this is a UT based project.”

Charlie Woodworth, with the Greater Franklin Development Council and a member of the TIF committee, said that he thinks broadening the categories will allow a farther greater return of investment for the UT and for the communities that are service centers for the UT.

This meeting was recorded by Mt. Blue TV and is available for viewing online at MtBlueTV.org

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