The Kennebec County budget — with its largest increase in about two decades — has been approved.

County commissioners voted Tuesday to pass the proposed spending plan as recommended by the county’s Budget Committee.

The budget’s large increases are necessary to cover costs at the Kennebec County jail, normally funded through a request to the state Legislature, and to pay the cost of additional patrol deputies now that the Maine State Police has scaled back rural patrols in Kennebec County.

The three commissioners also voted to allow cities and towns to split their annual commitment into two payments — for this fiscal year only — to help with municipal cash flow.

Kennebec County Administrator Robert Devlin said 60% of the county’s tax assessment would be due in September and 40% in February.

Normally, Devlin said, counties cannot collect tax revenue earlier than September, and all payments are due by the end of October. This year, county officials will not charge interest on payments that come in after that.

Information about the split payments will go out with the tax bills.

Officials are seeking $13,609,717 — with $11,981,685 raised through the county assessment on municipalities — to support county operations, including the Kennebec County Registry of Deeds, Probate Court, Emergency Management and District Attorney’s Office.

The county’s Budget Committee, made up of members of municipal governing boards, passed the budget 5-1 Thursday, with three members absent.

The county budget routinely passes without much interest or comment. This year, however, officials from three communities expressed concern about the increases, citing financial worries related to widespread unemployment in Maine and projected losses of tax revenue.

The Winthrop Town Council passed a resolution opposing the increase and urged commissioners to use creative solutions to minimize the county tax.

The Hallowell City Council invited county officials, including Sheriff Ken Mason, to take part in one of its meetings to discuss the increases.

And at the second and final public hearing on the budget, Winslow officials said now is not a good time to raise taxes.

Patsy Crockett, chairperson of the commissioners, said in all, very few spoke out against the budget.

“I hope people don’t think it was a mad outcry,” Crockett said.

Because the state Legislature ended its session early this year due to public health concerns about the spread of COVID-19, lawmakers did not act on the annual request by county jails for supplemental funding to cover a financial gap created when the state’s Board of Corrections was dissolved but the restriction on raising and appropriating property tax to pay for the jail was not.

Devlin said if the Legislature reconvenes and passes that request, cities and towns would be reimbursed. In the meantime, the jail cannot be operated at a loss.

At the same time, county officials have said they don’t want to leave areas of the county without law enforcement coverage.

While the Maine State Police has suggested scaling back patrols in Kennebec County before, it took no action until this year.

Crockett said while the State Police representatives spoke to Mason, they didn’t come to the commissioners, who are charged with overseeing the county budget.

Tuesday’s meeting was the first to be held in person since Gov. Janet Mills shut down business and government offices and capped public gatherings at 10 to keep the highly contagious coronavirus from spreading.

It took place in the first-floor conference room at Hill House, the Kennebec County Government Center.

The live meeting was one more step toward reopening county offices to the public.

Devlin said county employees who have been working from home have slowly been returning to their offices.

While most county employees were home, some have set up shielding between the public and the county staff. In some cases, county agencies are requiring appointments and the public is asked to wear masks.

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