AUBURN — The three-member Androscoggin County Commission has proposed a $10.7 million budget that includes a boost in heating costs, insurance and an expansion of the commission’s own ranks.
Changes, if approved by the Budget Committee, would hike the 2015 county taxes by $342,015, a 4.24 percent increase.
“We understand it’s a significant increase, certainly more than we’d like,” Commission Chairman Randall Greenwood said Tuesday. “I wish we could have our costs down.”
However, Greenwood said, some of the additions, including four new commissioners and a full-time county administrator, were mandated by the new County Charter passed by voters in 2012.
The current commissioners — Greenwood, Elaine Makas and Beth Bell — did their best to prepare for the expansion, he said.
Their proposed changes to the commission would cut compensation for newly elected commissioners from their current level of $8,292 per year for the chairman and $7,273 per year for the other commissioners to $5,500 and $5,000, respectively. Benefits would be reduced, cutting family health care plans to individual health care plans.
“We did spend an overwhelming amount of time with compromising and reviewing and analyzing,” Greenwood said.
County staffers collected salary and benefits information from Maine’s 15 other counties.
“We tried to come up with a fair and balanced approach,” he said.
In 2013, the Sun Journal compared county commission salaries and benefits across Maine and found a wide variety of pay and benefits. The highest was in Penobscot County, where commissioners received a minimum of $13,380 a year, plus benefits.
The new commission would be paid on the lower end of the spectrum. All would not be paid the same, though.
The commissioners’ proposal would grandfather Greenwood and Bell through the remaining years of their terms. Both were elected in 2013, and would continue to make their current pay and benefits for another three years.
County Budget Committee Chairman Michael Marcotte said he would likely oppose the pay proposal.
When the new administrator is hired, the role of the commissioners will change dramatically, he said.
Currently, they function as combined CEOs, making many day-to-day decisions for the county, he said. After an administrator is hired, they would be policymakers.
“The charter changes everything. It’s a new day,” said Marcotte, who is running this November against Makas for the commission’s first district seat. Once an administrator is on board, the commission’s role will be similar to the city councils in Lewiston and Auburn. The pay ought to be the same, he said.
In Auburn, city councilors earn $1,800 per year and the mayor earns $4,000. In Lewiston, councilors earn $2,700 per year and the mayor earns $4,500. None get health care benefits.
However, Commissioner Beth Bell hopes that the change in the commission’s role will give her more time to do other county duties and better connect with her constituents, she said
“There’ll be more time for that, and I hope that’s where the shift takes place,” she said.
She said she supports the proposal, though she opposed the commission’s expansion to seven members.
“No matter what, it costs more for the taxpayer every time we grow government,” she said, “and I do feel that five would have been more than sufficient to help balance out the board.”
Makas said she believes the commission did a good job of paring down costs for the additional commissioners and said that the current budget numbers reflect the time needed to ease the commissioners into their new roles.
It will likely be April or later before the new administrator will be hired, Makas said.
The budget proposal set aside just over $56,000 to pay the administrator, with the expectation that the person would unlikely start until at least April 1, she said.
The Budget Committee is scheduled to discuss compensation for the commission and its staff at 6 p.m. Wednesday Oct. 29 at the Androscoggin County Courthouse.
For a full copy of the budget proposal and schedule, go to www.androscoggincountymaine.gov.
Androscoggin county spending
2014 $10.3 million
2015 (proposed) $10.7 million
County commissioners and staff
2013 $42,808 spent
2014 $35,633 (so far)
2015 $53,000 proposed
Total tax increase proposed: $342,015