AUBURN — Androscoggin County commissioners discussed guidelines that they hope will improve and streamline the process on the 2016 county budget.

The goal of Wednesday night’s workshop was to start thinking about a protocol that would lead to a harmonious working relationship between the commissioners and the Budget Committee.

“We want to do our job,” Commission Chairwoman Beth Bell said. “We want to represent our constituents better. We want to be able to be effective. We truly are trying to come up with improvements to the process.”

Believing that communication is key, commissioners discussed ways to open the budgeting process to help avoid the miscommunication that, at times, plagued them last year.

Suggestions included documenting all questions, answers and recommendations between the two groups, encouraging Budget Committee members to attend the commissioneers’ workshops when department heads propose their budgets and starting the budget process earlier.

Commissioner Alfreda Fournier described it as “setting ground rules.”

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Commissioners felt that, at times, instead of looking at the broad picture of where money could be saved, the Budget Committee “nickeled and dimed” the budget, looking line by line to see where $25 or $50 could be saved. But the bigger issue splitting the two boards was the commissioners’ salaries.

While commissioners did not vote to raise their salaries, they voted for a smaller cut than what the Budget Committee recommended.

“The biggest concern I’ve heard from people through this process was the salaries,” Commissioner Randall Greenwood said. “It wasn’t who has final authority. It was the salary portion.”

Both sides said the disagreement led to feeling they were treated with a lack of respect.

“We respect the Budget Committee members because they’re feeling that they are also representing their constituents,” Commissioner Elaine Makas said. “Somehow, things kind of got out of control. We felt they were disrespecting us. They felt we were disrespecting them. Each of us are doing what we feel our constituents want us to do.”

“Their input is not only welcome, but it is vital and important,” Commissioner Sally Christner said.

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The Budget Committee is made up of two members from each of the seven county districts.

Greenwood said that, during his six years on the board, the commissioners and the Budget Committee had always enjoyed a good relationship. He said that even when the Budget Committee did not agree among themselves on a proposed change, the commissioners often would look at it again and adopt the recommendation “because it made sense.”

Makas, another longtime commissioner, agreed, saying the committee had made some good points during the process.

“One of the things that got lost in all the commotion last time around was that there were a number of items where we did make changes based from conversations with the Budget Committee,” she said.

The commissioners also discussed the new county bylaws that are expected to be completed shortly. The bylaws will cover how to county operates, similar to personnel policies on how the nuts-and-bolts things get done.

The bylaws need to be in place before the county can start looking to hire the new county administrator. The charter states the administrator serves at the pleasure of the board.

The board is hoping to post the opening before the end of May and have an administrator hired by early July.

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