Androscoggin commissioners schedule extra budget workshop

Sep. 9—AUBURN — The Androscoggin County Commission approved spending more American Rescue Plan Act funds Wednesday, but delayed taking final action on the preliminary 2023 budget.

Admitting that the board needed more time to review the spending plan, Chairman Sally Christner of Turner recommended the board schedule a workshop before next week's public hearing to take a deeper dive into it and lessen what was originally a 9.3% county tax increase.

The board scheduled the workshop for Monday at 4 p.m. in the commissioners' meeting room on the second floor of the county courthouse. The public hearing is Wednesday at 5:15 p.m., when commissioners are expected to finalize the preliminary budget.

The first Budget Committee meeting is Sept. 21.

A major stumbling block is the county jail budget, which was initially looking at a $773,000 deficit. Last week, commissioners transferred $236,000 from the jail budget meant for retirees and put in the benefit count in the general budget to address part of the shortfall. County Treasurer and interim County Administrator Clarice Proctor has proposed taking $300,000 from reserves to address the issue, but commissioners have yet to discuss that plan.

Sheriff Eric Samson offered a couple of ideas to address the deficit. A recent agreement with the U.S. Marshal's Office to temporarily house federal prisoners, Samson said, would increase jail revenue by $200,000. He said he could probably cut about $100,000 from his salary line since the jail has four job openings, which could rise to seven with other potential departures.

Commissioners will further discuss those proposals plus determine whether to accept a 5% cost-of-living salary increase for nonunion employees at Monday's workshop.

During Wednesday's regular meeting before the budget hearing, commissioners approved spending $49,000 from the county's allotment of the American Rescue Plan Act for the Harriman architectural firm to study costs for a new control room at the jail. The county will seek bids on the project.

The board also approved spending an additional $6,200 from its federal allotment for the sprinkler valve and piping replacement project. Commissioners had previously approved $31,000 for the project. Facilities Director David Cote said the system in place was built in the 1940s.

The Androscoggin County Historical Society had requested $50,000 from the federal funds, but Proctor said federal rules for allocating the money indicated the group was only eligible for $6,700, which commissioners approved.

Commissioners denied using the federal funds for Androscoggin Valley Soil and Water Conservation District. The group was seeking $24,000, a 71% increase from last year.

It was unclear if commissioners will fund their annual $14,000 in the regular county budget as it has for the last several years. Commissioner Roland Poirier of Lewiston said he was leaning toward not granting the group any money, claiming it did not do enough work in Androscoggin County.