County ready to re-examine the way it works

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AUBURN — Androscoggin County government may get a makeover.

On Wednesday, the three-member County Commission plans to vote on a measure that would create a kind of mini-constitution, establishing new rules for how the county works and who ought to run it.

It’s called a charter.

And in the end, commissioners hope it might cut costs to taxpayers in the county’s 14 towns.

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“County government in Maine is not a sexy form of government,” Commissioner Jonathan LaBonte said. “But it can be a whole lot more.”

He and fellow commissioners Elaine Makas and Chairman Randall Greenwood all said Tuesday they plan to approve the idea.

Hoped-for changes include the creation of a full-time county manager position and an expansion of the commission to five members.

Expanding the number ought to expand the exchange of ideas on the commission, said Makas, who is often outvoted by Greenwood and LaBonte.

All three commissioners said they favor a full-time manager, who would likely take over the administrative duties now performed by the commissioners.

“The town of Greene has a professional manager, but the county is reliant on part-timers,” Greenwood said. “We have a $10 million budget.”

As commissioners, they must set policy and review hiring, sign off on many financial items and react to smaller items as they come up.

Too often, the day-to-day work keeps the commission distracted from work on larger issues, LaBonte said.

In Androscoggin County, that means decisions on the future of the courthouse or emergency dispatching must be dealt with in the time remaining after another labor negotiation.

“It’s getting done, but it’s being done piecemeal,” Makas said.

If the commissioners vote Wednesday to begin the process, the first step would happen this fall with the election of six people to a newly created charter commission. The election — two people in each of the county’s three districts — would be accompanied by three appointments.

The next steps would be up to the nine-member group, which would decide whether and how to change such things as professional leadership and the number of commissioners. Other changes might include new rules that set lines of authority or checks and balances between county departments and elected officials.

Currently, the only rules running the county are spelled out in state statute, which works as a kind of default in the absence of a charter.

When the charter commission finishes its work, a proposed charter would go to voters for a countywide referendum.

dhartill@sunjournal.com

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