AUBURN — After years of paying thousands of dollars in dues to the Androscoggin Valley Council of Governments, the county wants a free pass.
Androscoggin County leaders say asking the county to pay essentially bills taxpayers twice.
Before Oct. 1, the county was scheduled to pay $6,580 to AVCOG. It didn't. However, all 14 towns in the county are paying their dues, totaling $105,114.
The issue has been developing since last fall, when county commissioners added the dues to their proposed budget but were denied by the county Budget Committee.
Informal talks have been going on ever since.
County Commission Chairman Randall Greenwood in August sent a letter to AVCOG requesting that the county retain its position on AVCOG's executive board despite no longer paying dues.
"It's going to be on the December agenda," AVCOG Executive Director Robert Thompson said Thursday. Allowing the county to be a nonpaying member would require AVCOG to change it's bylaws.
"The bylaws say what the bylaws say, and there's no provision for that," Thompson said.
The county should be allowed, said Auburn Mayor Jonathan LaBonte, who served on the County Commission last year. Auburn taxpayers already pay significant dues, he said.
Individual communities from across Androscoggin, Franklin and Oxford counties pay according to a formula that considers valuation and population. There is a base fee of $500 and a cap of $25,000. Lewiston and Auburn each pay the cap. The smallest fees are $1,000 each paid by the towns of Avon, Byron, Carthage, Gilead, Hanover and Upton.
Not every town in the region is a member. In Franklin County, the towns of Temple and Industry and four unorganized communities don't pay. In Oxford County, the nonmembers include Oxford, Sweden and Fryeburg.
Both Oxford County and Franklin County are members. Oxford is paying $4,910 this year. Franklin is paying $3,030.
Dues to AVCOG account for about 11 percent of its $2.1 million budget. The biggest share, more than $875,000 (41 percent), comes from federal grants.
County membership isn't always charged, though.
At the Greater Portland Council of Governments dues are not expected from its single county, Cumberland. The county is an ex officio member of its board.
"That was a decision that was made many, many years ago," said Neal Allen, executive director of GPCOG.
Whatever is decided, Androscoggin County is better off working with AVCOG, said LaBonte, who served as Androscoggin County representative to AVCOG for two years.
"It's important to sit at those tables," he said.
Though Androscoggin County belonged to AVCOG from 1998 to 2003 and joined again in 2010, there were years when commissioners missed out, LaBonte said.
In one instance, AVCOG received a grant and performed a study to improve assessing throughout the region.
"And then the study went on a shelf," he said. If the county had been there, the county itself might have been targeted for taking on the role as the area's assessing agent.
The county can attend meetings and receive modest services until the matter is decided, Thompson said.
"We're not going to flatly refuse to do things within reason," he said.