AUBURN — Androscoggin County received high marks for its 2020 audit from RHR Smith & Company in Buxton.

Managing partner Ron Smith attended the meeting Wednesday and presented his findings to the county commission. Smith said RHR Smith performs audits for nine Maine counties and a third of the municipalities in Maine.

He said the county is in a “very good financial situation.” The county finished the year more than a quarter of a million dollars under budget. It was cost savings and not more revenues that created the difference, Smith said. The windfall will allow the county’s reserves to remain at last year’s levels. The county had expected to see a drop in those funds.

“Hats off. You were able to financially grow,” Smith said. “The county is in better financial shape than it was last year, two years ago, three years ago.”

In other business, the commission passed a nonbinding, feel-good resolution in support of the protesters in Cuba.

Commissioner Isaiah Lary of Wales said, “Freedom dies in the dark,” in introducing his resolution. It passed by a 5-2 vote. Lewiston Commissioners Noel Madore and Roland Poirier opposed the measure.

The resolution said, “The Androscoggin County Commission supports the right of the protesters in Cuba to peacefully assemble, protest, and seek a redress of their grievances, and urges the President of the United States and the State Department to strongly, swiftly, and publicly support the rights of these protesters. Furthermore, the Androscoggin County Commission supports the rights of all people around the world to peacefully assemble, protest, and seek a redress of their grievances and to freely exercise their religion. By our speaking out, we help ensure that their sacrifice, protesting against a dictatorial regime, will not be in vain.”

Androscoggin County Commissioner Isaiah Lary is highlighted during a meeting that was conducted via Zoom. Screenshot from video

Madore and Poirier said commissioners should be working on county business, not foreign affairs.

“I think we’ve digressed from our duties in looking at international matters,” Poirier said. “Androscoggin County commissioners were not elected to venture into international matters. I do not even understand why we are even taking this up.”

“This is absolutely out of our realm,” Madore said. “I’m against even talking about this.”

Supporters quickly ended debate and passed the resolution.

Afterward, when Madore asked who was going to send the resolution to President Joe Biden, the meeting quickly devolved, as sometimes happens on the divided board.

Poirier said he was disgusted and offended when Commissioner John Michael of Auburn insinuated that anyone who voted no could be viewed as supporting a dictator.

With the county due to receive more than $22 million in American Rescue Plan funds, County Administrator Larry Post was seeking permission to proceed with nine major projects totaling more than $6.3 million. The most expensive project was $5.40 million for a new HVAC system for the courthouse and jail.

Commissioners balked at the request, which included no details on how the dollar figures were determined.

“I’m not comfortable on voting on any of these without a plan,” Madore said. “I don’t have details on any of them.”

“It would be nice to see a breakdown of the costs,” Chairwoman Sally Christner of Turner said. Terri Kelly of Mechanic Falls said she wanted to see justification for the expenditure.

The HVAC price was an early estimate by the engineer, said Post, who added that the engineer is still working on the numbers. When the county considered a similar plan a couple of years ago, the price tag was $2.5 million.

Post promised to provide more details at the next meeting.

Other projects asked for by Post included $660,000 for employee COVID-19 hazard pay, $173,134 to renovate the Probate Office, $150,000 each for information technology and to upgrade the commissioners’ meeting space with an improved recording and remote technology and $50,000 for a temporary trial assistant for the District Attorney’s Office.

Commissioners did agree to fund one of the projects — the new body scanner recently purchased by the county for the county jail. Sheriff Eric Samson said the purchase is eligible for rescue funds because it allows officers to remain 6 feet away from an inmate and also takes an inmate’s temperature.

The vote was 6-1 vote to approve the expenditure with Lary opposed. The money will reimburse the reserve account, replacing what was taken for the scanner.

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