State Sen. Russell Black, R-Wilton, tells members of the Jay Select Board on Monday night that legislation is likely to be introduced in the coming legislative session that would increase the number of Franklin County commissioners and districts. Newly-elected state Rep. Sheila Lyman, R-Livermore Falls, left, who represents Jay, asked members of the Select Board to share their opinions on the possible change. Donna M. Perry/Sun Journal

JAY — Legislation being crafted in Augusta would increase the number of Franklin County commissioners and districts from three to five, state Sen. Russell Black, R-Wilton, told the Jay Select Board on Monday night.

Black and newly elected state Rep. Sheila Lyman, R-Livermore Falls, attended the Select Board meeting to share information on the coming legislation and to gauge opinions on the matter.

Lyman, who represents House District 74, said she wanted to know how the Jay board felt about a proposed bill.  The other two towns in the district are Livermore Falls and part of Livermore, both in Androscoggin County.

“I want to do what Jay wants to do,” Lyman said.

A similar bill was enacted into public law in 2019 and was expected to go before Franklin County voters this past November. Commissioners voted 3-0 in May not to put the matter before voters, saying it was an unfunded mandate.

They were uncertain whether the Maine Secretary of State’s Office would be able to add the referendum to the general election ballot in November.

It turned out the secretary of state would have been able to put the referendum on the ballot of the general election.

The new bill would be written so it would have to go before voters, Black said prior to the meeting.

A former legislator had informed the Jay board about the original proposal on the evening following a public hearing during that day in 2019. Selectpersons voted 3-2 to oppose the bill in March 2019 and to send a letter to the Legislature affirming their opposition.

The entire Franklin County legislative delegation supported the bill.

Black said he believed there was misinformation out there on the past bill, including that it was an unfunded mandate and would cost taxpayers more money for five commissioners than the three already in place.

If the referendum question were put on the next state general election, it would not cost taxpayers more money, Black said.

Commissioners currently make $12,000 each for a year. A committee made up of two Franklin County Budget Advisory Committee members, a county commissioner and county clerk and state Rep. Thomas Skolfield, R-Weld, have put together a recommendation that would change the state law governing the county budget process.

One of the proposals is to have the budget committee set the salaries of each commissioner. Commissioners have not determined what they will do with the committee recommendation at this time. They wanted to wait until new commissioner Lance Harvell of Farmington takes office on Jan. 1, 2021 before making a decision.

Black said representatives of other towns have told him they want to vote on the proposal to increase commissioners and districts. It would give more representation to constituents and make smaller districts — possibly 7,000 people compared to the 10,000 commissioners each represent now.

Currently, Carrabasett Valley is the highest-valued town at $658 million. Jay is second at $548 million, Rangeley is third at $523 million and Farmington is fourth at $465 million.

The commissioners are now from Farmington, Strong and Wilton, which are in the lower half of the county, Black said.

“I represent all of Franklin County,” said Black, who represents Senate District 17.

He said commissioners meet twice a month, just like Jay Select Board, Wilton Board of Selectpersons and other boards, which make much less than $12,000 a year.

Select Board Chairman Terry Bergeron said he would like to see more details.

“We are still missing information,” he said.

Black said a referendum is the best way for county voters to weigh in on the issue.

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