Androscoggin County commission may cut proposed 5% employee wage increase

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Aug. 26—AUBURN — Facing a potential hefty tax increase, the Androscoggin County Commission began wrestling with the proposed 2023 budget Wednesday in the first of three budget hearings. Atop the chopping block is a 5% across-the-board pay raise for nonunion employees.

Commissioner Garrett Mason of Lisbon questioned the need for such a high amount, saying he was not comfortable with the proposal.

"I want further discussion on this," Mason said.

No commissioners spoke in support of the proposal. Chairman Sally Christner of Turner said salary increases in previous years were about 3%.

During their budget presentations to commissioners, acting District Attorney Alexandra Winter and Register of Deeds Tina Chouinard urged commissioners to support the 5% raise. Winter said the county lost three trial assistants in the past few months due to low pay.

Mason convinced the other commissioners to postpone any vote on salaries until they review the entire budget.

Christner and Commissioners Brian Ames and Roland Poirier, both of Lewiston, Terri Kelly of Poland and John Michael of Auburn supported Mason's request. Edouard Plourde of Lewiston was absent.

Acting County Administrator Clarice Proctor revealed last week that the 2023 budget shows the jail is facing a $773,000 deficit. The county announced it will use $300,000 in reserves to lower that to $473,000.

The proposed budget would raise county taxes by more than 9%.

Minus the salaries line, commissioners approved the budgets for deeds and probate and cut $1,000 from the county's share of the District Attorney's Office joint budget with Oxford and Franklin counties.

Commissioners also asked the administrator to look again at the electricity line in the District Attorney's Office budget. Mason and others thought the amount budgeted was too low.

The commission postponed a decision on the budget for the Androsocggin Valley Soil and Water Conservation District, which is asking for a 70% increase — from $14,000 to $24,000. Commissioners urged them to instead apply for American Rescue Plan Act funds, but they appeared to be divided on whether the district should request all its funding from ARPA or just the $10,000 increase.

Commissioners fully supported the $42,500 request by Western Maine Transportation Services, the same amount it received last year. In addition to its bus and transportation services, Community Relations Director Craig Zurhorst said his agency is hoping to take on the challenge of taking over the ride program that Community Concepts announced this week it is dropping.

The second budget hearing is scheduled for 5:15 p.m. Wednesday at the county courthouse. Among the budgets to be discussed are commissioners, Emergency Management Agency, building, information technology, treasurer, employee benefits, interest, insurance and Androscoggin Valley County of Governments.