AUBURN — Despite passionate pleas to soften drastic cuts, the 14-member Androscoggin County Budget Committee held firm Wednesday on reduced salaries and eliminated health and dental benefits for county commissioners.

The three commissioners each earn between $15,000 and $26,000 in salary and benefits. Two earn $7,200 in salary and the chairman earns $8,292. Beginning in January, when the commission expands to seven members, the benefits will be gone and salaries will be lowered to $3,000 with $500 added for the chairman.

The new numbers were initially voted on Oct. 29.

“I’m not here begging for your consideration,” commission Chairman Randall Greenwood told the committee. “But I just feel the public needs to know that after our last meeting, I felt like I was kicked and I was knocked down and I was dragged across the floor.”

Greenwood and others argued that even with planned changes to the county makeup that will limit the role of the commission, the seven members ought to earn more than the $3,500 top salary.

“The seven members aren’t going to be board members who show up twice a month and vote on things,” he said. During the first three to six months, the new commission will be deciding on bylaws and hiring a full-time county administrator, he said.

Commissioner Elaine Makas distributed a flier that compared commissioners’ compensation in every county in Maine. The new salary will put Androscoggin at the bottom of the list. The current lowest, Somerset County, would be double the new Androscoggin number.

Others, including Commissioner-elect Ron Chicoine, state Rep.-elect Heidi Brooks and former Rep. Stavros Mendros, all of Lewiston, spoke in favor of restoring at least some benefits to the commissioners.

Commissioners, themselves, had proposed dropping their base pay to $5,000 each and individual health benefits only.

“Not everybody does it for the money, but I think you deserve fair compensation for what you do,” Greenwood said.

However, at the end of the three-hour meeting, the Budget Committee settled on a budget nearing $8.3 million that left the commission’s new pay numbers in place.

They did insist that commissioners could buy into the county’s health plan but would have to pay the entire cost.

The change in pay is merely a stage in the process that was kicked off by the passage of the county charter at the end of 2012 and will continue with the new commission and administrator, said Norman Beauparlant, the budget committee’s Vice Chairman from Poland.

“We put them on notice last year,” he said. “And they will probably be underpaid for the first six months next year.”

But there would be no better time — with four new members coming to the commission — to make such a change, he said.

Committee member Emily Tuttle felt strongly that the benefits have long been inappropriate for the commission.

“It is a philosophical issue with me that part-time elected officials do not receive full-time compensation packages,” she said.

The committee did, however, restore one elected official’s benefits.

Michael Dubois, who was elected Nov. 4 to a second term as the county’s judge of probate, argued that the Maine Constitution prohibits a reduction in a judge’s compensation while he holds the job. Commissioners had proposed cutting his health care benefits to individual care only.

The Budget Committee restored his benefit at a cost of just over $9,200.

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