PARIS — Oxford County commissioners want the state Legislature to eliminate a registry of deeds position, change the deadline for the Unorganized Territories budget and change Maine's Freedom of Access Act. On Wednesday, they brought those and other concerns to legislators.
State Reps. Jarrod Crockett, R-Bethel, Roger Jackson, R-Oxford, Matthew Peterson, D-Rumford, and Tom Winsor, R-Norway, came to the commission meeting to hear suggestions for legislation in the upcoming session.
Oxford County is one of two counties that have two registries of deeds, County Administrator Scott Cole said. The other is Aroostook County. The Registry of Deeds Western District is in Fryeburg, while the registry in the east is in the county building in Paris.
Chairman Steve Merrill said Jean Watson of the Registry of Deeds Western District isn't running for re-election, and now might be a good time to eliminate the position without putting someone out of a job. Both registries could be run by the Registry of Deeds Eastern District, and the current clerk in Fryeburg would operate that facility.
Commissioner David Duguay said clerks from the Paris registry could help out, covering vacations. “This isn't putting anyone out of a job,” Duguay said. He said it was important, if the change were to happen, that it happen this year before someone is elected to replace Watson.
Cole said changing the number of registers would require state-level change, as the two registries were established by statute. The board has also looked at consolidating the two registries to Paris, but the idea is unpopular in Fryeburg, especially to attorneys in that area.
The change would save the current clerk's wage, about $27,000 per year.
“It does seem to make sense,” Crockett said. An attorney, Crockett observed that a growing amount of deeds information is available online, and that visits to the registry are rare. “It doesn't affect us as long as we can go online and access the deeds.”
Cole said the Freedom of Access Act has been used as a means of discovery by entities in legal disputes with the county, rather than by citizens looking for information.
“We're getting FOAA'd by our adversaries, but we don't get to FOAA them,” Cole said. He named Oxford Aviation as an example, and asked if legislators could do anything to change FOAA guidelines. He said the county office recently spent three days preparing information for Oxford Aviation.
Crockett said any change to FOAA would be a hard sell. “That is going to hit some serious opposition,” he said.
The board also asked for a change in the deadline to submit the Unorganized Territories budget, which is due Nov. 7. The budget is implemented the following June, and the state fiscal administrator must look at the Unorganized Territories budgets before they're enacted.
Commissioners asked if the deadline could be moved to Feb. 1, so that preparing the budget doesn't happen while the board is preparing the county budget. They also asked to eliminate the role of the fiscal administrator because commissioners, not state officials, see the Unorganized Territories first hand and know what kind of work they need.
Commissioners “are elected. They adopt the budget. That should be the end of the conversation,” Cole said.