FARMINGTON — Franklin County commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday not to hold a referendum in November on increasing the county commission districts and commissioners from three to five.

The 129th Legislature passed a law in June 2019 to allow the change, but Franklin County voters have to give their consent.

Commissioner Chairman Terry Brann of Wilton said he didn’t support the change. He said he is not going to do something to increase the financial burden on taxpayers in these economic times.

He said he spoke to two of the sponsors of the bill that was passed who said let it die.

It would cost up to $5,000 for the vote, if the state didn’t pay for it. Each commissioner earns $12,000 annually.

Commissioner Clyde Barker of Strong said he spoke to one sponsor who told him the same thing.

Commissioners considered it an unfunded mandate.

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,” state Rep. Tina Riley, D-Jay, who sponsored the bill, said last year.

“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.”

The bill was proposed after commissioners and the Budget Advisory Committee reduced or eliminated funding for social services and economic development over the years. The budget panel voted last year to add back some of the funding but commissioners have not released the funds.

Some selectmen approved of the bill including Carrabassett Valley, while others like Jay didn’t.

Riley tried unsuccessfully last year to change the law to hold the vote in November 2019 so the state would pay for it.

It was uncertain last year if the state would be able to fit the question on the November 2020’s ballot. Otherwise, Franklin County taxpayers had to foot the bill.

On Tuesday, Kristen Schultze Muszynski, director of communications at the Maine Department of the Secretary of State, wrote in an email that the law specified that the county commissioners issue would go to the next general election, “so we are looking to include the question on the November 2020 ballot, with the other statewide bond questions.”

“At this time, we anticipate that there will be space for it on the ballot  and no additional cost will be incurred. If there are no statewide bond issues, we would look to fit it on a different statewide election ballot in Franklin County,” she wrote.

“It is better to let it die than to take on the risk of residents having to pay for it,” Riley said in an email.

“I think they should put it on the ballot if the state is able to cover the cost of printing those ballots,” she said, prior to Muszynski’s response to the Sun Journal.

“I also think that the timeline has become completely unwieldy, making the whole process confusing for everyone involved,” she said. “Had it gone on the November 2019 ballot, we’d have been fine, but the wording in the original bill specified the ‘next general election,’ with many of us not realizing that, by statute, that does not occur until November of 2020. There are some other issues around the delayed timeline, but I think we could work through all of that if the ballot measure passed,” she said, prior to the state indicating it would put it on a ballot.

She didn’t believe it would have been approved by the commissioners in any case.

“They made it abundantly clear that they do not want to ask voters whether to increase the number of county commissioners or not,” she wrote after she learned the state was going to fit it on the ballot.

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