SKOWHEGAN — Somerset County commissioners passed a $5.859 million county budget Wednesday that takes money needed to balance the package from surplus funds and does not raise taxes in the 2014-15 fiscal year.

The spending package goes to the county Budget Committee for a vote. A date for that meeting hasn’t been set.

If the budget panel cannot muster a two-thirds majority — seven votes of the 10-member committee — to put its proposal into effect for the new fiscal year, the commissioners’ budget will take effect on July 1.

In a a 4-1 vote Monday night, commissioners rejected the $5.76 million budget sent to them for approval by the Budget Committee. Rejection of the Budget Committee proposal forced Wednesday’s special budget session.

On Monday, commissioners said $156,000 was needed to cover employee contracts and that it should come from surplus.

Commissioner Phil Roy of Fairfield, the lone dissenter Monday, said the Budget Committee had done its work and had given the commissioners a sound budget.

In Wednesday’s vote, Roy was again the lone holdout, saying commissioners were obliged to revisit the budget — line by line — rather than simply use money from the surplus. Roy warned that the practice could set the stage for a major shortfall of surplus money in the future.

“This is a deadly way of playing Russian roulette,” Roy said. “Surplus is a shortcut that leaves a 2016 nightmare.”

Commissioners and County Administrator Dawn DiBlasi whittled the $156,000 shortfall in county employee contracts down to $93,431 to be taken from surplus. That money, added to the $500,000 to be taken from surplus to offset county taxes, leaves the county with about $850,000 left in surplus, an amount Roy insisted is far short of the minimum reserve needed to cover emergencies.

Roy was outvoted.

“I can’t believe (the Budget Committee) would vote for it,” Roy said. “They’re crazy if they do.”

DiBlasi said the county needed the $93,431 transfer just to survive another year. She said the gap between that figure and the $156,000 cited on Monday as needed to fund the budget was closed by cutting spending in seven county budget lines. Departments affected by the cutbacks include emergency management, the district attorney’s office, the administration and commissioners’ office, maintenance, communication, deeds and probate.

Cuts were made in court security, reflecting funds that did not need to be in the budget because it is 100 percent reimbursed. A compromise with the sheriff’s department to not fully fund a new patrol deputy also cut $54,000 from the funds needed from the surplus, and about $17,000 was removed from tech services by not filling an open position.

There also were a couple of contractual expenses that DiBlasi said she would find funding for within the final approved budget. Those costs include a 3 percent annual increase in the county’s computerized finance program. Supporters of the transfer said the necessity of the expenses the surplus would fund as reason to make the transfer.

“What the $93,431 boils down to is health insurance, FICA, and all of that — things that we have to have,” Deputy County Administrator Lori Costa said. “The others we can live without or extend if we have to.”

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]

Twitter: @Doug_Harlow


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