Commissioner wants county panel to have authority over budget

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FARMINGTON — Franklin County Commissioner Gary McGrane of Jay said Tuesday that the county’s Budget Advisory Committee may have overstepped its bounds and micromanaged county government during the 2012-13 budget process.

During the meeting, McGrane said he would submit legislation to have the budget process changed to give commissioners the final authority on the spending plan.

After the meeting, McGrane said he planned to talk to fellow commissioners again and a state legislator to see about submitting legislation that would change the process in the commissioners’ favor.

Commissioner Fred Hardy of New Sharon said during the meeting that he did not agree with McGrane and wanted to keep the process the way it is.

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Hardy said he felt the budget system gives selectmen in the county’s towns a say. The committee is made up of nine selectmen. He did object, he said, to a committee that comes in and says they are there to cut the budget. He would like to get legislation that would make all of the counties’ budget processes the same.

Three budget advisory committee members voiced opinions Tuesday during the commissioners’ meeting opposing any change to the current process.

Farmington Selectman Ryan Morgan said the committee represents the taxpayers and provides checks and balances.

According to the statute covering Franklin County’s budget process,  commissioners submit itemized finance estimates to the committee to review. The committee prepares a budget and commissioners can’t change it except by unanimous vote.

If the adopted budget is changed by commissioners, the committee may reject that change by a two-thirds vote of its members. Those actions are final and are not subject to further action by either the commissioners or the committee.

McGrane pointed out that during the 2012-13 budget process the committee cut part-time elected officials’ flex benefits and nixed the commissioners’ plan to pave the county’s Church Street parking lot. Those changes were not discussed in public until a couple of days after a public hearing was held on the budget.

“When you reduce someone’s benefits I don’t think that is fair. It should be the commissioners that make that decision,” McGrane said.

McGrane said the committee may not know the particulars of why the commissioners put forth an assessment of cost such as on the courthouse.

“We as commissioners may not agree with the budget committee’s recommendation,” McGrane said. “I’ve seen too much of the budget micromanaged by the budget committee.”

He said he didn’t like the way the committee seemed to pick and choose whose benefits would be cut.

“I am concerned. Who is next?” he asked. The bottom line is the commissioners are responsible and if people don’t like it, they can elect someone else, he said.

Where do part-time employees receive benefits in the community? Wilton Selectman Terry Brann asked. He asked why commissioners should get more benefits than their constituents. He suggested that McGrane not submit anything to the Legislature until he surveys residents in the county.

Brann said the nine selectmen on the budget advisory committee are responsible to the taxpayers.

Avon Selectman John Calloway, chairman of the 2012-13 budget committee, said the current system works.

Commission Chairman Clyde Barker of Strong said he was surprised when he learned the committee had the final say on the budget process.

“I thought commissioners had a little more say,” he said.

dperry@sunjournal.com

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