SKOWHEGAN — County officials are hoping an impromtu budget workshop held Thursday night instead of a public hearing on the county budget will come up with $100,000 for a new deputy.
A huge spike in domestic violence calls in the county has the Somerset County Sheriff’s Department stretched thin.
The proposed 2014-15 county budget totals $5,967,261, $343,566 more than the county budget for the fiscal year that ends June 30, said County Administrator Dawn DiBlasi before the planned hearing Thursday. The budget represents a 5.8 percent increase over current spending levels.
The planned public hearing and vote on the proposed 2014-15 Somerset County budget by the Budget Committee and county commissioners was postponed Thursday night because proper public notice wasn’t given. Instead of holding a hearing, the commissioners and budget committee headed into what was termed a budget workshop.
DiBlasi said before the workshop the proposed $343,566 increase is largely from unavoidable contract charges from state retirement, union wages and unemployment and liability insurance.
The remainder of the increase — about $125,000 — would go toward hiring an additional sheriff’s deputy, DiBlasi said.
“What the plan is right now is that we’re hopeful that the budget committee will help us find another $100,000 to get that deputy on the ground,” DiBlasi said. “There’s a 63 percent increase in domestic violence in Somerset County. Currently, I’m told by the sheriff’s department that they’re not patrolling because they’re barely keeping up with calls. They’re out there and they don’t have enough men on the ground.”
The additional deputy was recommended because of an increase in crime, particularly domestic violence reports, in Somerset County.
After applying for various grants, the cost to the county of hiring, outfitting and equipping a new deputy would come to $103,722. Officials will ask the budget committee to approve using $343,566 in surplus funds to cover the increase.
The county is banking $1.3 million in surplus money.
Initially, DiBlasi said, budget committee members objected to the increase, hoping rather to keep spending where it is this year.
“The entire increase was a bone of contention because we are all trying to keep a flat budget,” DiBlasi said. “We have fixed costs that are going up; so the budget committee sent us back to tighten our belt and we’re struggling to make this work — we don’t want to cut any services — we really don’t have anywhere to cut, we run a pretty lean operation to begin with.”
Revenue, such as payments from municipalities for information technology services, contracts with the communications center and fees at the Registry of Deeds, is projected to be $2,093,248 .
Of the 12 county departments, including the courts, the district attorney’s office, sheriff’s department and emergency management, all but the county commissioners’ and the treasurer and finance budget lines are level-funded in the new budget. The commissioners’ budget came in $19,280 higher than the current year because of a shift in personnel and a shortfall in the current budget, according to DiBlasi.
There also is $500,000 in tax relief in the proposed budget, DiBlasi said. That money also would come from surplus.
The proposed budget is still about $900,000 below the spending cap of $6.8 million imposed by Maine Revenue Services, DiBlasi said.
The public hearing and votes are now scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday, June 16, at Somerset County Superior Court, on the second floor of the county office building on High Street in Skowhegan.
Following the June 16 public hearing, the budget committee will present its final approved budget to county commissioners. If commissioners approve it, the budget becomes law.
A two-thirds vote of the commissioners could change the budget — up or down — and send it back to the budget committee for reconsideration, but in the end, the Budget Committee has the final say, according to the county charter, DiBlasi said.