SKOWHEGAN — Somerset County commissioners Wednesday will consider how to plug an estimated gap of $156,000 in its salary budget for county employees.

The shortfall is the result of the commissioners’ rejection of the 2014-15 budget recommended by the county Budget Committee Monday night.

Commissioners meet at 3 p.m. Wednesday to develop a budget to present to the Budget Committee. If the committee cannot muster a two-thirds majority to put its proposal into effect for the new fiscal year, the commissioners’ budget will take effect on July 1.

Dawn DiBlasi, the county administrator, says the money to fund the employee contracts can come from surplus accounts, but members of the county Budget Committee say it shouldn’t.

“Dawn will have a plan and then we’ll start from there,” Commissioner Lynda Quinn, of Skowhegan, said Tuesday. “I don’t want to make it on the backs of the taxpayers, so I guess we can take it out of surplus. The bottom line is we did negotiate contracts with the unions and nobody is interested in opening that up again.”

County Commissioners rejected the $5.76 million budget presented by the Budget Committee by a vote of 4-1 Monday night, with Commissioner Phil Roy of Fairfield the lone supporter, saying rejection of the package was a “slap in the face” to Budget Committee members. The budget includes a compromise adding $70,000 for a sheriff’s patrol deputy, but he or she would not start work until January. The sheriff’s department said it would cost $125,000 for a new full time patrol deputy starting July 1.

Commissioners Wednesday will work to develop a replacement budget — one that includes $156,000 funding for union and non-union contracts. The contracts were negotiated before DiBlasi came on board, she said, but still need to be paid.

“Our auditor said that the Budget Committee had a duty to at least provide us with our contract costs, but that was lost on them,” DiBlasi said Tuesday. “In response, the commission had a duty to reject an irresponsible budget or we open ourselves up for possible civil fines. We cannot afford to lay anyone off and still function.”

She said the money should come from surplus. DiBlasi said there is $1.3 million in the county’s surplus. The proposed budget already includes taking $500,000 from surplus for tax relief.

Budget Committee members Monday night noted that the surplus account is fast diminishing and wondered what the budget process will be like next year with little or no surplus to tap. Committee members also worry that the surplus account will fall below levels needed to cover the recommended three months of operating expenses in case of an emergency.

Solon selectwoman and Budget Committee member Elaine Aloes argued that commissioners are not allowed to take the money from surplus because it would change the budget’s bottom line. Aloes said she will vote to support the Budget Committee’s recommendation.

“County expenses have to be reined in,” Aloes said. “They’ve been giving out these contracts year after year after year; people get 3 percent raises every year they get health insurance all paid for — we can’t keep paying 100 percent of health insurance; most people in the county aren’t getting that. I don’t think commissioners have understood that in the past few years. The Budget Committee has said enough is enough.”

Quinn said she has been told by fellow commissioner Roy that there is plenty of money in the budget to cover the costs of the contracts.

“I’m not satisfied with all the answers when everybody’s got a different one,” she said. “If we can’t take it from surplus, I want to know why; somebody has to explain to me why we can’t take it from surplus if we have bills to pay.”

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]

Twitter: @Doug_Harlow


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