At the final public hearing Thursday on the proposed Kennebec County budget, city and town officials turned out — online — to object to increases in proposed spending at the county level.

This year, Kennebec County officials are seeking $13,609,717, with $11,981,685 raised through the county assessment on municipalities, to support the costs of running county operations, including the jail in Augusta.

After the close of the hearing, the county Budget Committee voted 5-1 to approve the budget.

And it voted 5-1 to exceed its legislatively mandated spending cap, due to “the state underfunding the county correctional facility and the unfunded mandate on the law enforcement decision to add staff due to the state’s Department of Public Safety’s decision to withdraw from its agreement to patrol communities in Kennebec County.”

Two factors are driving the increases to the budget:

• Failure of the state Legislature to act on supplemental jail funding before this year’s legislative session was cut short by the coronavirus pandemic.

• Efforts by the Maine State Police to scale back patrols in Kennebec County.

During the public hearing, Rep. Catherine Nadeau, a former member of the Winslow Town Council who has represented Winslow and part of Benton as a state legislator for eight years, said she objected to the increases.

She was joined by Ray Caron, chairman of the Winslow Town Council, who said Winslow had cut its budget and to meet its county obligation would have raise $36,000 on top of the $19,000 it had identified earlier this year for the county assessment.

Nadeau said with today’s economic uncertainties, now is not a good time to hit cities and towns with an increase in county taxes.

“We have hit the towns hard with no municipal revenue sharing because they have been cut down,” Nadeau, a Democrat, said. “And now we’re asking for an increase. It has never been a good time to do that, but this especially not a good time to do that to any of our towns.”

Nadeau pointed out that Winslow’s proposed increase in its county assessment would be 8.5%, and she wanted to know how that could be when the county has a 3% cap.

Cities, towns and counties have the ability under state law to vote to exceed their spending caps. In the case of the county budget, the cap does not apply to individual municipalities. It applies to the county budget as a whole. Each municipality’s assessment is based on its state valuation.

State law has also imposed a cap on spending allowed on county jails, which was put in place when the state Board of Corrections was created in 2009.

When the board was disbanded in 2015, that cap was not lifted. To deal with inflation and increased expenses for salaries and insurance, among other costs, counties have made annual requests of the Legislature to meet the funding gap.

This year, the Legislature cut short its session due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and did not act on jail funding, leaving the matter to county officials.

Clyde Dyar, chairman of the county Budget Committee and a Mount Vernon selectman, asked if Nadeau is a legislative representative.

“One of the fallacies we’ve had to deal with during the budget process,” Dyar said, “(is) due to the legislative inaction, we do have to pay for the jails and we’ve had to raise money to do that.

“Without the state participating with us, the state is pushing their responsibility back on the towns. I’m from Mount Vernon. I fully comprehend what’s going on. I assure you, the citizens I represent aren’t any happier than anybody else.”

Added Dyar: “Why do you think it’s appropriate to do that? Why do you think now is the time to hit the people of all our small towns with such an increase to fund the jails? Why don’t you go to the state to ask for help?”

Under state law, counties are required to forward their assessments to their towns by July 15. It is not clear when or whether state lawmakers will return this year.

“If we don’t utilize the Maine State Police,” Nadeau said, “why can’t we reach into that budget to offset and help Sheriff Mason with the jails?”

County Administrator Robert Devlin said that would require legislative action.

Barbara Alexander, a Winthrop town councilor, also registered objections to the addition of deputies to the county budget, arguing the county could have taken other measures.

“Tell the State Police its their obligation to continue patrolling,” Alexander said, adding that rural towns — those without police departments — need to step up and pay.

The county Budget Committee has nine members, three each from each commissioner district. At Thursday’s meeting, three were absent: Eric Lind of Augusta, Monica McCarthy of Rome and Timothy McDonald of Monmouth.

Budget Commmittee member Jerry Quirion, also a Winslow town councilor, was the sole dissenting vote.

Thursday’s public hearing, hosted in Augusta, was the second of two required by law.

The proposed budget now goes to Kennebec County Commissioners at their June 16 meeting.

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