Valerie Royzman • December 1, 2021
DOVER-FOXCROFT — Piscatquis County’s 2022 budget and 2022-23 unorganized territory budget are likely to increase by 5.86 percent and 7.48 percent, respectively, according to proposals reviewed by the Piscataquis County Commissioners during a public hearing Monday.
The county’s Budget Advisory Committee began its review process Oct. 14 and wrapped up Nov. 4 after holding four meetings. During the hearing Monday, which lasted almost two hours, the Peaks Building was nearly packed and commissioners fielded questions from the public, including several Dover-Foxcroft Select Board members. Commissioners are expected to vote on the proposed budgets in December.
The proposed county budget totals $5,451,864. To offset the increase, revenues are up by a projected $122,400, County Manager Michael Williams said. The unorganized territory budget was set at $2,067,393. Revenues are up $71,000.
The unorganized territory budget’s jump compared to this year is due to a variety of factors, including costs associated with trash; $10,000 for administrative costs; and capital for three new accounts dedicated to winter storms and other weather damage, fire protection as the county renewed services with three towns that cover the east side of Piscataquis and cemeteries that need to be cleaned up, Williams said.
“[In] Lily Bay and Frenchtown in particular, for some reason, we’re getting a large increase in tonnage through there,” he said. “We’re somewhere around 35 ton, 45 ton higher than we were in past years. … I’m guessing it’s all the people who are moving up there.”
During the hearing, some debate ensued after Carole Boothroyd, a Dover-Foxcroft resident, asked about the Appalachian Trail Club. Given the group’s long, positive track record and the economic benefit the trail provides to the county, she wondered why the club was receiving so little.
In past years, the club hasn’t given the commissioners any feedback, Chairperson James White said. A representative came forward this year and explained “They didn’t need the money, they weren’t asking for the money, they’re flush with money,” White said.
The commissioners chose to use the money to lessen the tax burden on citizens instead of giving it to the nonprofit that didn’t have a need, White said. Commissioner Wayne Erkkinen added that the club received $2,000 from the county, and it relies on many federal grants and donations.
Jane Conroy, a member of the Dover-Foxcroft Select Board, attended the meeting when an Appalachian Trail Club representative spoke before the commissioners and strongly disagreed.
“He [the representative] went through depth in talking about how the money would be spent,” she said. “He said they were looking to get more privy work done up there, that their numbers have increased because of COVID.”
Boothroyd asked about the proposed $13,000 for not-for-profit outdoor recreation. For three years, the county will escrow the funds, which could be used to build new recreation, such as hiking or biking trails, in the unorganized territory, White said.
Conroy asked if a bridge for outdoor recreation in Gulf Hanas would qualify. Sarah Robinson, Piscataquis County Soil and Water Conservation District executive director, said she requested additional funding for 140 acres of trails that are declining in Williamsburg and wondered if the funds could be used for repairs.
White, pounding his gavel, said individual items would not be discussed during the meeting, which he said was dedicated to a presentation of the budgets and not to adjustments. Commissioner Kevin Torbett said everything would need to be applied for and approved by the commissioners.
Later in the meeting, Donna Coffin, who works at University of Maine Cooperative Extension in Piscataquis County, said she learned last week that support staff costs will skyrocket due to the new minimum wage.
“We’re not sure how that’s going to affect the number of days that we’ll be open,” she said. “Certainly if you could see it in your hearts to reconsider our request for this year, that would be appreciated.”
White praised the university’s work and said “the feeling is mutual,” pointing to inflation in recent months and increasing costs across the county.
“It certainly isn’t because our hearts aren’t with you,” he said. “When you talk about minimum wage, the starting pay at the jail is less than starting pay at McDonald’s. We’re in the middle of negotiations with the union right now, but the money has to come from somewhere.”
The Piscataquis County Sheriff’s Office’s proposed budget is $1,291,873, up by 8.55 percent mostly due to the addition of a position to help cover increased calls to the unorganized territories in the county, according to Williams’ memo.
The sheriff’s communication division’s proposed budget ($824,378), however, is down by nearly $9,800 because a study on the county’s public safety radio system was completed this year.
Several attendees questioned the commissioners about how they’ll spend American Rescue Plan Act funds. White reiterated that the commissioners would discuss ARPA funding during regular meetings, held at 8:30 a.m. the first and third Tuesday of each month.
Observer photo/Stuart Hedstrom EMERGENCY APP — The Piscataquis County Emergency Management Agency, which is located on the second floor of the Peaks House on the county’s Dover-Foxcroft campus on East Main Street, has a new app to share information with employees and residents.