AUBURN — Despite hesitation about the use of reserve funds to help pay for operational expenses to lower the tax burden, the Androscoggin County Commission adopted the 2022 county budget as presented to them by the Budget Committee.

The $15.8 million budget will increase the county share of property taxes by 6.75%.

Much of the increase is due to a sharp drop in anticipated revenues.

County Administrator Larry Post said he could live with the budget, but implored commissioners to leave the reserve accounts alone moving forward. Post said the county had done a good job of raising reserves and the fund balance, an effort that was praised in the recently completed audit. But the so-called “rainy day fund,” has been raised in each of the past two years to replace revenues lost during the pandemic.

In his original budget, Post had recommended spending only $250,000 from the fund balance and jail reserves, but the Budget Committee increased that amount to $500,000, dropping it below the $1 million threshold Post did not want touched.

The initial budget proposal would have increased the county portion of taxes by 12.3%.

Commissioner Roland Poirier of Lewiston said this year’s proposed budget had lowered the reserve account by 29%, after lowering last year’s amount by more than 30%. He called that model unsustainable.

“The reserves were wiped out by 50% in two years, which took 10 years to build,” Poirier said.

Budget Committee Vice Chairman Allen Ward of Lisbon defended the work saying it was a budget that was the least disruptive to the county and was supported by a super majority of the committee that is made up largely of municipal officials from the seven county districts.

“The budget had its challenges,” Ward said. “Is it ideal? No. There are things in here I don’t like.”

Commission Chairwoman Sally Christner of Turner said despite the use of reserve funds, she would support the proposal from the Budget Committee.

“I don’t have a better idea,” Christner said. “I need to get on board with the Budget Committee.”

Post was still uncomfortable, but said he warmed up a little to the idea when he discovered that increased revenue from the Registry of Deeds, due to increase real estate transactions would soften the bow.

Commissioners voted 6-1 to approve the budget, with only Isaiah Lary of Wales voting no, saying he wanted further cuts to the budget.

The county makes up a small portion of the overall property tax bill. The bulk of the tax pays for municipal services and the school budget.

In other business, the board approved a change to the by-laws, offered by Commissioner John Michael of Auburn, that clarifies how items can be placed on the agenda. In addition to a vote of four of the seven commissioners to place an item on the agenda, Michael proposed that a written request by three members could also be used to overrule a decision by the chair to keep the item off the agenda.

Lary argued that the change would hurt a lone commissioner’s minority view to discuss an item, but Michael said submitting a written request signed by three commissioners would still protect the minority.

Commissioners heard proposals from Museum LA and Journey House, a six-bed recovery center for men and women in both Auburn and Lewiston, seeking funds from the American Rescue Plan Act. Commissioners gave no indication when they would consider the requests.

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