September 23, 2019

Knox County committee restores budget cuts

ROCKLAND – After hearing spirited defenses of spending requests, the Knox County Budget Committee on Wednesday night restored funding it had cut earlier in the review process.

The big winners were the sheriff’s department, the District Attorney’s office and the Knox-Lincoln Extension Service.

In meetings through late November and December, the committee whittled down spending requests from the levels approved by the county commissioners, cutting more than $100,000. During the public hearing Wednesday night that preceded the final review of the $5 million spending plan for 2001, committee members heard from the heads of departments.

District Attorney Geoff Rushlau asked the committee to restore funding that would pay for a part-time receptionist for his office.

“There has been a significant increase in the work load in the office,” Rushlau said. “I think we’re probably overdue asking for an increase.” Comparable counties “have far more support staff than we have,” he added.

During the committee’s deliberations, member Ed Glaser was reluctant to add even a part-time employee, arguing instead for paying current staff better, and bringing gender equity to county wages.

“I don’t know if this is the time to add more people,” he said, predicting that the part-time post would soon become full time.

But committee members Jean Chalmers, a lawyer, and Chip Laite disagreed, and supported restoring $8,452 that had been cut from the district attorney’s budget. The committee voted 4-2 in favor of budgeting $148,452, the same amount the commissioners set.

County Treasurer Linda Post asked the committee to return about $3,000 it had cut in her budget, saying it would pay for an additional five hours of work each week for a part-time bookkeeper. Post noted that revenues from investments had grown, and that she had cut the bookkeeper’s hours in the past.

The committee agreed to restore $2,158 to the treasurer’s budget.

Despite hearing a plea from Sheriff Dan Davey, the committee stayed pat on its cuts to the county jail budget, voting in favor of $1.5 million, a cut of $19,074 from the budget approved by commissioners.

Davey argued that the additional $19,000 would have paid for a new van used to transport prisoners. The county’s four vans all have high mileage, he said. Knox County is unique in that it must transport prisoners from the state prisons in Thomaston and Warren to the Rockland court without any compensation from the state, the sheriff said.

Committee member Bart Vergie told Davey the county could still purchase a new van, but should find the money in existing accounts.

On the patrol side of county law enforcement, Chief Deputy Todd Butler asked the committee to reconsider a $67,000 cut. The funds would have paid to bring a much-needed third detective on board, Butler said.

Committee member Laite asked Butler for a compromise figure, and Butler suggested adding $24,000. Committee members agreed, and voted in favor of a final budget of $931,000 for patrol.

Several people rose to speak in favor of the county contribution to the Knox-Lincoln Extension Service, asking that the committee budget $44,780, instead of the $38,000 figure agreed upon at an earlier meeting.

Laite said it was he who recommended the cut, because the Extension Service had not provided him with a requested organizational budget.

Laite apologized, saying the information was provided in a county document.

In the end, the committee supported giving the extension service $43,500 less than the requested amount, but slightly more than last year’s level.

The committee also approved the $500,000 budget for the Knox Regional Communications Center, the new countywide E-911 center, which will be funded entirely through assessments to county towns.

Commissioners can, by law, overturn the committee’s plan by a unanimous vote, but Chairman Bob Duke said he and Commissioners Lawrence Nash and Ed Sleeper would accept the committee budget.

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