BELFAST – It will cost the taxpayers of Waldo County $4,342,646 to run county government for the coming year.
It took the Waldo County budget committee just 10 minutes to pass a 2002 county budget calling for operating expenditures of $4,176,646, and another nine minutes to appropriate an additional $166,000 for special reserve accounts.
All told, it took the committee less than 20 minutes to pass the budget, a decision rate of about $217,000 a minute.
The committee conducted its work during a public forum on Thursday.
After the vote, county commission Chairman Jethro Pease thanked the panel for its support of the commissioners’ spending proposal. Pease noted that the budget contains a number of one-time expenditures and forecast that spending levels on some of the accounts would be lower in coming years.
The budget represents a 16 percent increase over this year’s budget of $3.6 million. The budget should result in a 10 percent increase in local taxes needed to fund the various county accounts.
The budget contains a 3 percent across-the-board pay raise for all employees plus a one-time additional 35-cent-per-hour raise for staff and 75-cent-per-hour raise for supervisors. The raises culminate a two-year effort to raise county pay levels to those comparable with the midrange average of Maine’s other counties.
As is the case every year, the Sheriff’s Department, jail, dispatch center and employee benefits account for the bulk of the budget. Together those accounts amount to $2,997,623, about 70 percent.
The cost of running the sheriff’s patrol for the coming year was set at $795,547, an increase of $130,376 over this year. Much of that increase was caused by the need to buy three new cruisers and the addition of a domestic violence officer.
The cost of running the jail was set at $898,266, an increase of $165,021. Much of the increase is to cover overtime, part-time wages and the hiring of an additional corrections officer.
The cost of running the dispatch center was set at $533,335, an increase of $85,961. Much of the increase was caused by the hiring of former Belfast dispatchers brought about when the county and city merged their communications centers.
The cost of employee benefits for the coming year was set at $770,475, an increase of $169,910. Most of the increase was caused by increases in health insurance premiums and expanded contributions to the Maine State Retirement System.
The budget also included a one-time $125,000 appropriation to equip all county offices with new computers and software. A task force that studied the county’s computer capability described the existing situation as deplorable and recommended a complete upgrade in equipment and service contracts.
The budget committee approved setting aside $3,000 for the courthouses, $15,000 for the jail-sheriff’s buildings, $5,000 for the bridge account, $50,000 for planning, $75,000 for future facilities, $10,000 for employment security and $8,000 for equipment service.
Pease told the approximately 40 municipal officials, legislators, county employees and members of the public who attended the meeting that the commissioners still had their work cut out for them.
“We still have to find out what to do with the jail and sheriff’s office. That’s our first priority this year,” said Pease. “The two years of raises caught our employees up to parity with a good part of the counties in the state.”
Budget committee Chairman Sam Butler of Winterport commended the commissioners for working with the panel and presenting a workable budget document. “It’s been a pleasure working with this budget committee and the county commissioners this year,” Butler said. “I’ve been on the budget committee nine years and I think this is the smoothest one ever.”