AUBURN — The Androscoggin County budget for 2022 would increase by 1.89% if commissioners approve the proposed spending plan presented by County Administrator Larry Post at Wednesday’s budget hearing.

The $16 million budget features a 3% rise on the department side and a 0.66% increase in the jail budget. The proposal includes a 3% increase in wages for nonunion employees.

Revenues, however are expected to drop 18.84%, or by nearly $1 million, Post said. The major reason for the drop is that the county relied heavily last year on utilizing money from the fund balance and reserves, which Post said was “not sustainable.” Last year, the county used $380,000 from its fund balance and another $100,000 from reserves to lessen the tax rate. Post said the fund balance is below where it should be and reserves are “depleted.” The fund balance is at its lowest level since 2017.

“We still need to grow reserve accounts, increase fund balance and adequately operate the departments of the county,” Post wrote in an introduction to the budget. “This budget attempts to put us on track to move forward in meeting our needs.”

Commissioners heard presentations on nine accounts Wednesday night from three department heads and the leaders of two of the nonprofits that the county funds.

District Attorney Andrew Robinson presented the proposed budget for the five accounts that he oversees, with three of those featuring no increase from last year. Much of his operation is funded by the DA account. Its 4.38% increase is mostly due to the increase in wages and travel reimbursement for professional conferences, which were curtailed last year due to the pandemic.

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Commissioner Isaiah Lary of Wales said he plans to recommend that the 3% wage increase be dropped to 2.25% for all employees when it comes time to vote on the budget. He also asked department heads to consider saving money by attending conferences remotely instead of in person.

The Registry of Deeds is asking for a 4.48% increase, with the majority of the increase due to wage increases and attending conferences, said Registrar Tina Chouinard.

By contrast, the Registry of Probate is seeking an increase of 8.64%, which includes adding five hours to Register Thomas Reynolds’ work week. Androscoggin County is the only one of the 16 counties to have a part-time register of probate. Reynolds, who now works an average of 20 hours per week, noted that Androscoggin County handles the third most probate cases in the state.

The board also heard presentations from the Androscoggin Valley Soil Conservation District, which is seeking $14,000, the same level of funding it has received for the past several years, and from Western Maine Transportation Services, which is asking for a $5,000 increase to $45,000.

Lary, a frequent critic of funding WMTS, complained that the government’s mask mandate for public transportation prevents people who choose not to wear masks from utilizing the service. Lary added that he would recommend that no money be allocated for the transportation service.

Budget hearings on the remainder of the county budget will be held the next two Wednesdays before a public hearing and a vote is scheduled for Sept. 1. The Budget Committee will then gets its turn with the budget starting Sept. 8.


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