AUBURN — The Androscoggin County Commission made two changes to the 2017 budget but ended up tabling the measure when a dispute arose over whether to raise their own legal fees or cut $15,000 from another department to balance the budget.

Two weeks ago, the Budget Committee adopted its final proposed budget, approving an increase in the county assessment limit to 6.44 percent — the same amount as the increase to the county tax rate.

If commissioners wanted to restore a cut to the budget, they would have to reduce a line item in the budget by the same amount.

The two areas commissioners wanted to revisit were their legal fees and repairs to the deteriorating clock tower on the roof of the courthouse, totaling a combined $140,000.

The clock tower was handled fairly quickly, though not unanimously.

Last month, after initially cutting all money for the clock project with the suggestion to pay for it with a bond, the Budget Committee restored some money to the project after County Administrator Larry Post, after meeting with a consultant, felt it could be done cheaper than the original bid of $300,000.

Commissioners did not like that change. Saying they did not want to take any chances, a split commission restored the remaining $125,000 to the project and subtracted a similar amount from the building reserve account.

The change, according to Commissioner Randall Greenwood, would have “zero impact” on the tax levy.

The money would then be available to complete the project without needing extra to consult with the Budget Committee on expending funds from the reserve account. If not needed, the money would return to the building reserve account next year.

The commission voted 3-2 to restore $125,000 to the building improvements line. Randall Greenwood, Beth Bell and Matthew Roy voted for the change, while acting Chairwoman Sally Christner and Alfreda Fournier voted no. Commissioner Elaine Makas was absent and Chairman Ronald Chicoine resigned his seat last week.

The debate on legal fees produced some heated moments.

Greenwood carried the argument for the majority who wanted to restore the $15,000 cut by the Budget Committee from the original proposal of $60,000. Commissioners had budgeted that amount on the recommendation of their attorneys.

Fournier argued that the county has spent way too much on legal fees and it needs to reign in spending on that line item.

So far in 2016, the county has spent more than $72,000 on legal fees out of $75,000 budgeted.

The Budget Committee had cut $15,000 in an attempt to send a message to the commissioners. That message was not well received by some of the commissioners.

“It is completely unethical for the Budget Committee, whose members represent the municipalities and voted to bring this lawsuit against the county, to then cut our legal fees,” Greenwood said.

Roy and Bell echoed Greenwood’s remarks.

The motion passed by the same 3-2 vote.

Finding an accompanying $15,000 cut in the budget to pay for the legal fees proved impossible. Greenwood suggested reversing the decision to change a part-time position to full time in the district attorney’s office, but that received no verbal support.

There were no other recommendations from the other commissioners except to not raise the legal fees, which Greenwood refused to consider, saying, “This line is particularly invigorating to me.”

Wanting more time to consider alternatives in the budget to cut $15,000, the board agreed to table the issue until its next meeting Dec. 14.

Two of the three newly elected commissioners, Isaiah Lary of Wales and Zakk Maher of Poland, attended the meeting. Their terms will not begin until after the first of the year.

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