FARMINGTON — The Franklin County budget committee moved Wednesday to increase spending for nonprofits in the county budget following weeks of debate and a recent public hearing where several people came to the committee to plead for the funding.

“I think it was very convincing — the people who came and testified and said what this service does for them,” said committee member Tiffany Maiuri in arguing for funding for Western Maine Transportation Services.

The committee originally budgeted $43,700 for so-called program grants, which include nonprofits and social services organizations that work in Franklin County.

That number represented a cut of about 31% from last year’s $63,700 and an even steeper cut from the $251,255 county budgeted five years ago.

After public push back, the committee moved Wednesday to add an additional $20,001 into the program grants budget for a total budget of $63,701.

They also approved a total $6,742,022 county budget Wednesday night, up just under 3% from the current budget.

The additional funding for program grants includes $10,000 for Western Maine Transportation, which previously was slated to receive no funds, and an additional $10,000 for Western Maine Community Action, bringing the total funding for that group from the county to $30,000.

The committee also voted to fund Seniors Plus with $1, to be used as a place holder so the group can come to the county and ask for funds next year.

County commissioners have said they will not fund new groups that weren’t previously funded as program grants.

“I think we can afford $1 so they can come back and we can understand if they have a need,” Maiuri said.

She also proposed a change to the rule requiring the county to only fund agencies that have been funded in the immediate prior year, though that motion did not pass.

Funding for program grants has been a point of debate in the county since two of three commissioners — Terry Brann and Charlie Webster — said in recent years they envision completely eliminating funding for the nonprofits.

Even on Wednesday, there was significant debate between committee members and no unanimous votes.

Five different motions were made for funding amounts for Western Maine Transportation, with the committee finally voting 5-3 in favor of the $10,000.

Voting in support of the funding were Bob Luce, Keith Sweet, Morgan Dunham, Ray Gaudette and Maiuri. Opposed were Judy Diaz, Tiffany Estabrook and Josh Bell.

Travis Pond was absent.

At one point, Gaudette asked Western Maine Transportation Operations Director Sandy Buchanan, who was in the audience, what kind of return the group gets for the county funding.

For every $1, Buchanan said the group can get $4 in state or federal funding.

“So why would we not want to budget something like this for $5,000 or $10,000 if the state or federal government will go up three or four fold?” Gaudette said. “It doesn’t make sense.”

At the end of the meeting, Charlie Woodworth, executive director of the Greater Franklin Development Council, also asked the committee to fund nonprofits that have been cut in recent years, including the development council.

Woodworth said Franklin County is the only county that doesn’t fund economic development.

“Look at these entities as businesses,” Woodworth said. “They have budgets. They have employees. They’re paying people who work here, shop here and send their kids to school here. Some of these organizations are not only providing essential services to strengthen the fabric of our communities, they’re driving the economic engine.”

Also Wednesday the committee approved adding a 3% cost of living increase into the budget for salaries for non-union employees. The increase previously was set at 2%, but there was discussion at last week’s meeting about raising the cost to match what will be received by union employees.

The committee also added $18,640 into the budget for a fourth dispatch station in the communications department.

The total budget now heads to county commissioners for final approval next week. Commissioners can make changes, but only if they agree unanimously, and the changes would also need final approval from the committee.

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