Androscoggin commissioners cut $500 from $14.4M budget

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AUBURN — Failing on more than a dozen attempts to cut funds from the 2019 Androscoggin County budget, Commissioner Isaiah Lary of Wales finally won a modest $500 cut from the Probate Department.

It was the only cut Androscoggin County Commissioners made Wednesday night.

Commissioners ratified the preliminary county budget and sent the $14.4 million proposal to the county’s Budget Committee.

For the past three weeks, commissioners reviewed the proposed budget and heard presentations from the department heads. Wednesday was the commissioners’ first opportunity to make additions or subtractions to the budget

County Administrator Larry Post urged commissioners to pass the budget, which contains the smallest increase in three years.

“This is a responsible budget,” Post said. “I have no reservations bringing this budget before you.”

Noel Madore of Lewiston appeared to speak for the majority of the board when he said, “The budget that has been presented is fair.” He urged his fellow commissioners to support it.

Lary, however, did not want to rubber stamp the budget.

“We need to protect the taxpayers,” he said. “Their wages and income are not going up.”

Lary was the lone commissioner to propose cuts to the budget. Several of his motions failed to even garner a second. No commissioner agreed with his attempt to cut the cost of living increase for nonunion employees.

He did find some support for his proposed cuts. Seven of his attempts failed by a single vote on the seven-member board. Many of those proposals centered on budget lines that often had large balances remaining at the end of the year.

“We need to cut these areas historically not being spent,” Lary said.

He tried to cut $1,750 from secretarial services in the commissioners’ office. He tried to cut $500 from the overtime account in the Buildings Department. Both of those lost by a 4-3 vote.

An attempt to delete $1,500 from maintenance supplies in the Buildings Department received no support.

While attempts to trim funding for court-appointed lawyers, meals and furniture for the Probate Department all failed, Lary did find others commissioners willing to take a closer look at the lodging budget line.

The lodging line allows the judge of probate to attend conferences. Although no lodging money has been spent in 2018, Register of Probate Thomas Reynolds increased the budget line by $250 to $1,000 for 2019.

Four other commissioners — Melissa Willette, Sally Christner, Raymond Lafrance and Matthew Roy — agreed with Lary and voted to trim $500 from the account.

That was the only concession Lary received all evening.

Lary could not convince enough commissioners to eliminate funding for the Androscoggin and Sagadahoc Cooperative Extension or Western Maine Transportation Services. After two previous failed attempts to gain funding, WMTS successfully received $42,500.

Upset with funding the transportation agency, Lary called it “socialism.”

Lary made one last attempt at a substantive cut, proposing $6,500 cut to Androscoggin Valley Soil and Water, but Bonney Starbird of Auburn took offense.

“Water is our most basic need,” Starbird said.

Citing recent problems in other areas of the country, she added,  “I’m not interested in anything that would compromise that.”

That cut failed in a 4-3 vote.

The budget now goes to the budget committee. Following a budget presentation next Wednesday, the committee will begin its examination Wednesday, Sept. 26.

The committee is expected to finalize its budget Oct. 31 and send it back to the commissioners, who are expected to ratify it Nov. 14.

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