A Winthrop resident is challenging longtime District 2 County Commissioner Nancy Rines for a seat on the three-member county board.

Joseph Pietroski, 71, a Republican who now serves on the Winthrop school board, said he’s running for the county commission because he’s challenged by the position. In addition, he chose to vie for the seat because there hasn’t been much interest in running for the commission and the Republicans often have not fielded a candidate in the race. Pietroski said he’s giving up his seat on the Winthrop school board in hope that someone who has children in the school system will run.

Rines, 73, a Democrat from Gardiner, was first elected in 1982 — the first woman voted onto the Kennebec County Commission — and has served nearly every term since. Rines said she’s running because continuing to serve gives her the opportunity to use the skills she has learned in service of the county.

“I am a clinical counselor by profession, and I have worked for large institutions, school systems, and I have worked independently. I know a lot about working with groups,” she said. “Part of what I love about the job is that is allows me to use those skills.”

County commissioners oversee the county’s fiscal operations and make policy decisions affecting county government, and they govern unorganized territories. The county budget obligations include funding departments such as jails, emergency management, the sheriff’s office, and the registers of probate and deeds.

District 2 encompasses Farmingdale, Fayette, Gardiner, Hallowell, Litchfield, Monmouth, Mount Vernon, Pittston, Randolph, Readfield, Vienna, Wayne, West Gardiner and Winthrop.

Pietroski, who has attended a county budget meeting and another county commission meeting in recent years, said the county’s assessment on his property tax bill has caught his attention.

While the assessment is small compared to the municipal and school portions, he said it has been increasing steadily.

“I have some maybe radical ideas in some respects,” Pietroski said. “But they are different ideas, and I base it on all the experiences I’ve had.”

He said the increase in the county tax for the current year is higher than the rate of inflation and higher than cost of living increases, and he would like to see that change.

“Just because you are doing it, doesn’t mean it’s a good idea,” he said.

Whatever the cost of living increase is, he said, the tax increase should be no more than half of that. Pietroski said he tries to accomplish that on the school board.

“Most of the time we can come to an agreement,” he said.

He said he would bring his skills as a strategic planner to the position because it would keep the commissioners focused on their priorities.

Among Pietroski’s concerns are the costs of health care and mental health care at the jail, and the change in state law that allows people to search the Registry of Deeds essentially for free.

He is the former president of and chief lobbyist for the Maine Bankers Association, and has been the legislative and financial manager for the Maine Association of Retirees.

During her time on the commission, Rines said, county government has changed. A professional county administrator has been hired and a budget committee, made up of municipal officials from the county’s cities and towns, has been appointed.

“The county is a regionalized service organization, in my mind,” she said. “The budget committee helps us to be very clear on the impact of the county budget.”

The county also undertook a change of the budget year from the calendar year to an alternate fiscal year. That eliminated the need for tax anticipation notes, which are loans to cover county expenses until taxes are collected. In doing so, the county worked with municipalities on the changeover so the annual effect on local budgets would be minimized.

And recently, county officials acquired a building in Augusta outright to house the Registry of Deeds, ending an arrangement that required the county to pay for a long-term lease for office space.

“I think my approach is to have a long-term goal and a short-term goal, and that’s reflected in our budget,” Rines said.

She said Kennebec County has been a leader in policies that other counties are interested in investigating, including the practice of investing a share of surplus to earn higher interest, creating revenue that doesn’t come from taxpayers.

Rines credits the cooperation between the district attorney’s office and the sheriff’s office for helping to manage the jail population through scheduling court hearings, which has lessened the need for paying to board inmates in other counties’ jails.

Because the municipalities are so strong in Kennebec County, she said, county government helps support them in its role. At the same time, Rines said, county government is as independent at the municipal governments.

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

[email protected]

Twitter: @JLowellKJ

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