AUBURN — The Androscoggin County Budget Committee voted Wednesday to cut salaries and eliminate health care and dental benefits for county commissioners.
The 2015 commission’s reduced role in the day-to-day operations in the county and its expansion from three to seven members forced the action, members of the committee said.
“We’re all stuck between a rock and a hard spot,” committee member Anthony Reny of Greene said. “I serve my town as a selectman and God knows there are no benefits other than serving people.”
Commissioner Mark Lunt, who serves as a Lisbon selectman, echoed Reny.
“I don’t get health insurance,” Lunt said. “I don’t see how counties are more important than people who serve their towns.”
The current three-member commission had proposed cuts that would have reduced pay from $8,292 for the chairman and $7,273 per year for the other commissioners to $5,500 for the chairman and $5,000 for the others. It also would have eliminated family health care subsidies, worth almost $18,000 for each family enrolled. The proposal would have continued single plans worth an estimated $8,469 per commissioner. However, it would have grandfathered the commissioners at their current compensation until the end of their terms.
Instead, the Budget Committee eliminated all health benefits. And it cut the compensation to $2,750 for six commissioners and $3,250 for the chairman.
“That’s a pretty strict punishment for us because the charter says we are going to seven commissioners,” Commissioner Elaine Makas said.
The commissioners’ proposal had made moderate, “balanced” cuts, Makas said. “We were trying to be as respectful as we could be and we do represent the people of our various districts. I would advocate against cutting all benefits.”
In 2013, the Sun Journal compared county commission salaries and benefits across Maine and found a wide variety of pay and benefit levels. The highest was in Penobscot County, where commissioners received a minimum of $13,380 a year plus benefits.
Budget Committee members preferred to compare the pay with local municipalities.
Committee member Ralph Caldwell of Turner said he made just over $3,000 per year with no benefits as a selectmen.
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 earn health care benefits.
The commission’s health care benefit has been controversial for years. Until 2004, new commissioners and other elected officials who served as few as three terms earned health care benefits for life.
Some felt such benefits were too extravagant for people who serve part time.
“I never agreed that the commissioners should have got those benefits in the first place,” committee member Emily Tuttle of Minot said. “And especially not now.”
Though the committee voted on the changes, it could revise them.
The Budget Committee is scheduled to meet again on Nov. 5 and has planned a public hearing for Nov. 19. Both meetings are planned for 6 p.m. at the Androscoggin County Building in Auburn.