AUBURN — With virtually no discussion on issues raised by its Budget Committee and others at a public hearing earlier this month, the Androscoggin County commissioners voted unanimously to amend the county charter in reference to their salaries and benefits package.

The amendment to the charter, proposed last month by Commissioner Randall Greenwood, will prevent commissioners from raising their salaries without the approval of the Budget Committee. 

Commissioner Elaine Makas amended Greenwood’s proposal to also include the “expansion of benefits” that would also need the approval of the Budget Committee.

Fixing that omission was one of the suggestions made by Lewiston City Manager Ed Barrett at a public hearing.

Without further discussion, both Makas’ amendment and Greenwood’s motion passed by a vote of 6-0, with Commissioner Matthew Roy absent.

The amendment will now go before county voters in November for final approval.

The reason for the change was to clarify language in the charter following a contentious budget process last fall concerning commissioners’ salaries. While commissioners did not vote to raise their salaries, they voted for a smaller cut than what the Budget Committee had recommended. Which board had the final authority to determine compensation for elected officials was in question.

To fend off concerns that they could raise their salaries with no oversight, commissioners proposed the amendment to clarify the Budget Committee’s role.

The Budget Committee, however, believe they already have that power as well as final authority over the entire county budget. Commissioners believe the charter gives them that authority.

Nearly every member of the Budget Committee attended the May 6 public hearing and spoke out against the way the commissioners had the Legislature amend the charter after it was adopted by a county vote in 2012.

Two members of the original Charter Commission, who wrote the charter, also attended the public hearing and said they gave final budget authority to the Budget Committee, which has several municipal officials among its members.

The amended charter now gives that authority to the commissioners.

Barrett had suggested two changes at the public hearing. The first simplified the language of the proposed amendment and included all compensation, not just salaries. Commissioners agreed to include benefits, but did not discuss the simplified language.

His second proposal was a detailed description of how the budget process would unfold, giving final authority to the Budget Committee if it had a supermajority vote of 11 of its 14 members.

Commissioners never talked about that issue at either the public hearing or Wednesday’s meeting.

After the meeting, Barrett said he would begin contacting people to consider the next move.

“I can’t say I’m surprised,” Barrett said. “It would have been nice if they had discussed it some.”

After the vote, Commissioner Ron Chicoine attempted to put the past dispute with the Budget Committee in context, saying the disputed amounts — not including salaries or compensation — were minimal when compared to the overall budget.

“For the most part, the county commissioners, except for the salaries and the benefits, pretty much went along with the Budget Committee recommendations,” Chicoine said.

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