Franklin County budget panel OKs $6.56M budget

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FARMINGTON ­­— The Franklin County Budget Committee approved a $6.56 million budget Thursday night after debate over funding nonprofit social service agencies.

The vote was 8-1 with Bob Luce the lone dissenter.

The 2018-19 spending plan represents a roughly 5 percent increase over the current $6.21 million budget and includes across-the-board wage increases for employees of the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office.

It needs approval from county commissioners, two of whom have said they do not support the committee’s recommendation to fund the nonprofits.

Unanimous agreement by the three commissioners is needed to make any changes to the budget.

Some committee members expressed concerns related to funding nonprofit social service agencies. A total of $5,000 has been cut from the current budget.

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Some commissioners have said they plan to eliminate county funding for nonprofit groups such as Western Maine Community Action and Western Maine Transportation, which provide social services for county residents, by next year.

On Thursday, committee members led by Mike Pond questioned how such groups are spending the money the county gives them.

Pond said he has heard people wondering what the salaries are for those who work at the nonprofit agencies and said in the future the groups should present concrete plans to the county on how they plan to spend the money they request.

“I would like to see something tied to this money saying, ‘You have to do this in order to receive this money,’” Pond said. “So many times I hear arguments that they pay too much and there are too many benefits. On the other side, I hear from the actual group, ‘If I had that money, I could do this.’”

Pond also criticized Western Maine Community Action, a Wilton-based nonprofit that asked the county for $30,000 this year, saying the group still has $10,000 the county allotted them last year that hasn’t been used.

Bill Crandall, program manager for housing and energy services at WMCA, was at Thursday’s meeting and apologized to the committee. He said the money is needed but because of staffing changes and a state government shutdown of certain services, the agency hasn’t yet billed the county.

In another discussion, committee member Travis Pond made a motion to reduce the county’s budget for county commissioners, saying they shouldn’t be compensated if they refuse to sign warrants for paying the county’s bills.

Pond was referring to a statement by Commissioner Charlie Webster, who has said he won’t sign warrants to pay nonprofit groups at the levels the Budget Committee is seeking.

While the committee approved $61,200 for nonprofits Thursday, commissioners have argued it should be lower — at $42,450.

Webster was not at Thursday’s meeting but Commissioners Terry Brann and Clyde Barker said they would not hold up warrants because of the extra funding for the groups. After their statements, Pond withdrew his motion.

Commissioners will consider the budget Tuesday. While total expenditures are up about $340,000, the amount of money to be raised from taxation is expected to increase by about $268,399.

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