AUBURN — Signs will begin appearing on Androscoggin County roads this weekend asking people to “Vote ‘Yes’ on the Charter.”

The 16-page proposal would create a full-time county administrator position. It also would set term limits and other rules and would expand the policymaking County Commission from three to seven members.

“This is the nuts and bolts of how a government is run,” said Chip Morrison, a member of the partly elected, partly appointed Charter Commission formed in November 2010.

County government has to change, Morrison said.

That belief is so strong that he and other members of the Charter Commission are paying for the “vote yes” signs out of their own pockets.

“We’ve done all we could,” said Richard Grandmaison, the group’s vice chairman. “County government is too big to go on without changes. You’re talking about roughly a $12 million budget.”

However, opponents have been appearing.

Randall Greenwood, chairman of the County Commission, said he agrees with most of the charter. After all, he was the commission’s representative to the charter group.

But he won’t be supporting it. He opposes the addition of four commissioners.

“I see that as an expansion and an added cost to taxpayers,” he said.

Commissioner Beth Bell said she, too, opposes the move.

“I just feel that going from three to seven is more than we need to do,” she said.

Currently, the chairman earns an annual salary of $8,492 and the other two commissioners earn $7,273. The positions also come with a benefit package that includes health care insurance. Whether that compensation would continue in a reshaped county government would be up to the county’s Budget Committee.

Salaries would likely change, said Michael Bowie of Lisbon, chairman of the Budget Committee.

“If I have a voice in it, absolutely,” Bowie said. With a professional administrator on board, the commissioners would no longer serve as both policymakers and administrators. Their roles would be more comparable to selectmen or city councilors, Bowie said.

In Auburn, city councilors earn $2,700 per year. The mayor gets $4,500. And there are no health care benefits.

“To me, the health care stuff would go away and you would only have a stipend,” Bowie said.

Greenwood said his opposition is not about his own pay or benefits. It’s about the direction of county government. He said the current commission could make many of the changes — such as hiring a new administrator — without the charter.

However, the current commissioners do not agree.

Elaine Makas said she “absolutely” supports the charter proposal. In part, she respects the work that’s been done. Also, she agrees that a bigger commission would be better.

“Three is a very difficult number,” Makas said, “It’s too small. It interferes with us getting work done.”

Richard Gross, chairman of the Charter Commission, agrees that it’s too small.

“There’s a lot of power being held by three people,” he said. “I think that power should be more diffuse.”

If the charter is approved, the county commissioners would have a heavy workload for a while.

They would have a few months to draft and approve a set of bylaws, something that’s never governed the commission. They’d also have to begin the administrative shift.

“They’re going to have a huge job right up front,” Gross said. “They are going to have to write a job description for a new county administrator, interview and hire.”

A new, larger commission would not be elected until the fall of 2014.

Other changes are slated to include a limit to three consecutive terms for commissioners, a provision for recalling elected officials and recasting the Budget Committee in a more advisory role.

Currently, the Budget Committee must approve the annual budget with a majority vote. In the new system, the committee would merely have the opportunity to veto any line item with a super-majority of 11 of 14 members. It would also set salaries and benefits for elected officials.

But the County Commission would have more power to determine spending.

“It maintains the checks and balances of the system,” said Robert Mennealy, a Charter Commission member from Auburn.

He, like Morrison, Gross and Grandmaison, believe the charter would modernize the system of government. Changes would also give greater voice to the smaller towns, Mennealy said.

Modernization is worth the hassle, Morrison said.

“It’s a form of government that was created in a time long gone,” he said.

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Androscoggin County Charter proposal


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