AUBURN — For more than three hours Wednesday night, the 13 members on the Androscoggin County Budget Committee crunched the numbers, asked tough questions and made some difficult decisions.

By the time the committee adjourned at nearly 9:30 p.m., it had made a significant dent in the proposed 2022 county budget.

Through a combination of cuts, additional revenues, applying lost revenue allowed by the American Rescue Plan Act to pay for some one-time expenditures and raiding the county’s reserve accounts, the committee sliced more than $600,000 from the amount needed to be raised by taxation.

Just $103,500 had been cut from the taxation amount at the previous two meetings.

Unofficially, according to Sun Journal calculations, the county budget, which was seeking a 12.33% increase, is now looking at an increase of about 5.7%.

That more than met the goal set by Vice Chairman Allen Ward of Lisbon, who said he was hoping to limit the increase between 5% and 6%.

“Last year, the county did extremely well to do what most communities in Androscoggin County did — no increase during COVID,” Ward said. “Knowing you can’t just push pause and not expect expenses to increase during that period of time, it’s reasonable to expect any municipality, and I suspect the county is the same, without turning a screw you can expect something between 3 and 5 percent with doing nothing, just keeping the doors open.”

He thought a 3% to 6% increase per year for the county was not unreasonable.

“So we have some work to do,” he said.

Andrew Titus of Auburn agreed that 6% was a “good meeting ground.”

Limited by how the county can spend federal coronavirus relief funds and not wanting to create a financial cliff by paying for something with that money, only to add that back in the budget next year, the committee looked for one-time expenditures it could remove from the budget and pay for it with federal dollars.

Led by Auburn City Manager Phillip Crowell and Titus, the committee found some of those items in the sheriff’s, communications and the jail budgets totaling nearly $100,000. The committee also removed more than $80,000 from the county’s capital improvement budget for the same reason.

The Emergency Management Agency saw its training budget cut by $10,500 when Crowell said some municipalities may not be able to send employees for the training due to staffing shortages. He mentioned that the Auburn Fire Department has seven vacancies and that Lewiston Police had about 10 openings.

The panel found a big chunk by taking an additional $200,000 out of reserves to pay for the jail. The county was already planning to use $100,000 for that purpose and County Administrator Larry Post expressed concern that reserves were shrinking to a dangerous level.

The committee kept up its attack on reserves, taking $50,000 from estimated surplus and $100,000 from county reserves. With the increase in real estate prices, the committee added an additional $50,000 in anticipated real estate transfer tax for a total of $210,000. The committee initially considered raising the account to $240,000 before settling for the lower amount.

When everything was finished, the committee cut $1.31 million budget increase by more than $709,000, leaving an increase of about 5.7%.

The Committee will hold a public hearing on its recommendations Oct. 20. The budget will return to the county commission for final approval Nov. 3.

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