Feelings have collided with laws in Androscoggin County. During this past November, two of the three members of the County Commission voted to wedge themselves against the county’s Budget Committee —  a state-mandated finance committee of 14 members representing every taxpaying municipality in the county.


The world of feelings is often at odds with the rule of law. Though we see “rules” and “policies” in classrooms and the workplace, in government we have laws.

Laws can be created to keep order, provide consequence for crime, and generally act as a balance against unchecked feelings. However, while feelings can be a powerful catalyst for passion and debate, they do not trump the rule of law.

The commissioners begin the budget process by assembling a “proposed budget” from a “preliminary budget,” submitted to them by county staff. Commissioners can review and adjust this proposed budget where needed before submitting it to the Budget Committee for final review and adjustment. By charter, the purpose of the Budget Committee is not just to set commissioner salaries and benefits but to review, reject or modify any proposed budget produced by the commissioners before being adopted.

The budget approved by the Budget Committee becomes the “final proposed budget” to be adopted by the authority of the County Commission.


Enter the world of feelings —  within 24 hours of the “final proposed budget” being approved and subsequent Budget Committee adjournment, the process failed.

The commissioners scrapped the approved “final proposed budget” and presented themselves with a new budget, irrespective, and regardless of, any Budget Committee review or approval.

In sum, the commissioners now insist that they alone have been decreed with absolute power to adopt any budget of their choosing. This, while at the same time they accuse the 14-member representative Budget Committee of being on a “power trip.”

Their exclusionary position has created the unfortunate situation we find ourselves in today.

By disregarding a budget passed by a super-majority vote of the Budget Committee, the commissioners have spurned the representative voice of every municipality in Androscoggin County.

Not only is this an unprecedented disservice to the taxpayers, jeopardizing the concept of checks and balances, it is likely a violation of state law.


State laws currently on the books in Maine govern the balance of power between administrative entitlement and economic oversight by including specific language that pertains to county governance and budget procedures. While county charters are allowed by state law and may provide specific procedures unique to their respective jurisdictions, a county charter may not violate state law.

Maine Revised Statutes Title 30-A §1353 states:

“A county adopting a charter under this chapter may provide for a method of appropriating money for county expenditures … Any alternative method provided must give the county legislative body the authority to appropriate money, according to the budget, which must first be approved by majority vote of the finance committee.”

The Androscoggin County Charter was reviewed by a legal team prior to passage. In formal letters and public presentations the charter framers have emphasized that while margins were intentionally made difficult, in certain cases of overwhelming vote majorities the Budget Committee did have the final binding authority to adjust, modify or override elements of the commissioners’ budget. It is this condition that allows the charter and budget process to satisfy the oversight requirements of MRSA 30-A §1353.

Ironically, quoting a Dec. 12, 2014, Sun Journal article, one county commissioner affirmed that by making vote requirements more difficult “the charter also weakened the Budget Committee, changing its role to advisory, in most cases.”

In most cases, indeed.


The county commissioners’ claimed power to reject the budget reviewed and approved by the Budget Committee, and adopt a budget of their own without review, places the charter and oversight process in violation of MRSA 30-A §1353. The likelihood of the charter being crafted as such is improbable and highly dubious.

The facts before us today show the charter was constructed with Budget Committee authority inhibited but ultimately intact. This condition meets the legal requirements set forth by state law and supports the framers’ statements.

If this were not the case, we would find ourselves faced with the potential for a true legal crisis in Androscoggin County.

Michael Lachance is the Ward 7 City Councilor from Lewiston, serving on the Lewiston Finance Committee, Lake Auburn Watershed Protection Commission and Androscoggin County Budget Committee.

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