AUBURN — Saying the price is too high and would likely wipe out the Reserve Account for building repairs, the Androscoggin County Budget Committee decided Wednesday to eliminate all capital expenditures for the Building Department.

The committee sliced all $297,500 in the account, the bulk of which was slated to be spent on repairing the deteriorating clock tower above the Androscoggin County Courthouse.

The clock tower is in serious need of repair, County Administrator Larry Post said. The concern is water leakage and a possible collapse of the second-floor ceiling.

Budget Committee member Shane Bouchard, a Lewiston city councilor, made the motion to eliminate the line item and instead to pay for the repairs by bonding.

Bonding, however, could take up to a year before the county gets funding, said County Treasurer Robert Poulin, who explained that the county voters would have to sign off on the bond first.

Earlier this year, the county asked for bids to repair the clock tower, but the one bid received was nearly three times higher than the $100,000 that had been budgeted for the project. With roughly $25,000 already spent on architectural services, commissioners decided to hold the remaining $75,000 in reserve and seek another $225,000 from the capital account.

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The panel was concerned there would be no money left in the reserve account to pay for any emergency repairs. 

The Budget Committee suggested that the county use the $75,000 that had been set aside to fund the four projects costing $72,500 that were also cut along with the clock tower.

The four capital improvement items are for balcony repairs, flooring, the jury bathroom and roof access.

The committee also cut an additional $29,100 from the $13.2 million budget, including another $6,900 from the Building Department.

The budget for the county commissioners took a hit in both salaries and attorney fees. Looking to send a message to commissioners to be more reasonable, the legal fees were cut from $60,000 to $45,000.

Andrew Titus of Auburn questioned the process, wondering if the attorneys could meet with Post, who could update the commissioners instead of paying multiple attorneys at executive sessions.

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“I’ve never seen so many executive sessions with two or three attorneys,” said Guy Desjardins of Sabattus. “I think there is a cheaper way of doing things.”

Kevin Nichols of Turner wondered if commissioners should shop around for cheaper attorneys.

Attorneys Bryan Dench and Ronald Lebel from the law firm Skelton, Taintor and Abbott charge the county in excess of $300 per hour.

Commissioners have already outspent their $75,000 budget by more than a third with nearly three months remaining. The state Risk Pool has only contributed $15,000 toward those fees to date.

A divided panel cut the commissioners’ salaries from $4,000 to $3,000, with an extra $500 for the chairman. Commissioners had already cut $1,000 from their salaries and eliminated all health insurance. Some members of the Budget Committee thought that was enough.

“I don’t want to send a bad message on the commissioners’ good intentions,” Desjardins said. “They moved forward on the salaries and they moved forward on benefits.”

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But committee Chairman Michael Lachance of Lewiston passed out a transcript on a county charter presentation at a Lewiston City Council workshop in 2012. Discussing changing the number of commissioners from three to seven, both Commissioner Elaine Makas and Charter Commissioner Chip Morrison said the same amount of money budgeted for three commissioners would be divided by seven.

“The new commission would be sharing the same pot of money for salaries, there’s no greater expense for it,” Makas said according to the transcript.

The committee approved a cut of $7,000 for salaries by a 7-4 vote, short of the 11 votes needed for a supermajority.

The Budget Committee did fill one of its three vacancies, appointing Allison Dube of Livermore. 

The next meeting of the Budget Committee is at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 12.

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