Franklin County commissioners meet with Finance Manager Vickie Braley at the courthouse in Farmington. From left are Chairman Terry Brann of Wilton, Charles Webster of Farmington and Clyde Barker of Strong. Sun Journal file photo

FARMINGTON — Franklin County voters will be asked in November 2020 to decide whether to increase the number of county commission districts and commissioners from three to five.

The 129th Legislature passed a law in June to allow the change, but Franklin County voters must give their consent.

Sen. Russell Black, R-Wilton, co-sponsor of the bill, said in July that local legislators were asked by selectmen and town managers to submit the bill to the Legislature.

“The intent of the bill is to give more representation to residents of the county,” Tina Riley, a Republican from Jay who sponsored the bill, said in March.

“Writing county budgets, which have been squeezed for so long from above and below, has become a significantly more painful process,” she wrote in her testimony on the bill. “Services have been cut back, mill rates have gone up and, with them, the ire of the taxpayers.”

Commissioners and the county Budget Committee have reduced or eliminated funding for social services, economic development and other agencies under the program grants section of the budget.

The Jay Board of Selectpersons voted 3-2 in March to oppose the bill and sent a letter to legislators.

Board Vice Chairman Tim DeMillo, who had served on the county Budget Advisory Committee for seven years, said in March that he had concerns about the change. He said there has been no discussion about it.

“It makes me suspicious it is a backdoor run” because donations were cut,” Jay Selectperson Judy Diaz previously said.

Commissioner Terry Brann of Wilton, who represents District 1, which includes Jay, Wilton, Temple and Carthage, said that was also a concern of his.

Brann said there had been no problems with a three-member board.

Only District 3 Commissioner Clyde Barker of Strong has been in favor of supporting most of the agencies.

The third commissioner is Charles Webster of Farmington, who represents District 2.

“Both Sen. (Russell) Black and Rep. (Thomas) Skolfield, (R-Weld) asked me during the legislative session if our Board of Selectmen was in favor of this and I told them our five-member Board of Selectmen unanimously support this,” Carrabassett Valley Town Manager Dave Cota wrote in an email in July.

“I believe many of our (town) Boards of Selectmen have five members which provides better representation, in this case of the entire County.”

Phillips Town Manager Maureen Haley said in July she did not know about the law, but after she learned of it, she brought it up at a selectmen’s meeting.

“We were interested in the reason for this,” she wrote in an email to the Sun Journal. “At this time we have no comments. Questions, yes, comments, no. We have no experience with a  5 member board. I suspect it takes away the opportunity of 2-1 (votes) all the time. There is always the concern that more commissioners means more money, obviously.”

Last week, Riley tried unsuccessfully to get the question on the ballot this November so the cost would be borne by the state, not county taxpayers.

“If we have space to include this question on a statewide ballot, there would be no expense to Franklin County taxpayers for the ballots,” Kristen S. Muszynski, director of communications at the Maine Department of the Secretary of State, wrote in an email. “If not, they would have to pay to print their own ballots. We expect that we will likely have space to include the question on the referendum ballot for that election, but it’s too early to say with certainty.”

The question also includes staggering the terms of commissioners.

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