AUGUSTA — Even as the Kennebec County budget committee endorsed a proposal to modestly lower the county’s share of property taxes, members have their eyes on next funding question: What to do with $23 million in federal relief funds.

On Wednesday, the budget committee agreed to a revised spending plan that doubles the amount of the county’s surplus funds to be used to offset spending in the county’s $14.3 million draft spending plan.

That shift, from $150,000 to $300,000, will reduce the increase what municipalities in Kennebec County would pay to support county government operations through their property taxes from 5.67% to 4.42%.

“I like it,” committee member Eric Lind said. “It’s appreciated.”

Lind, an Augusta city councilor, had said at the committee’s first meeting that the originally proposed increase was a “heavy hit” for the city of Augusta, which is working to keep taxes flat in its own proposed spending plan.

Under the original proposal, Augusta’s share of the draft county budget was $1,884,183.07, a 6.3% increase over the current year. By using the additional $150,000 of undesignated surplus, the share for the county’s largest municipality drops to 1,861,861.29, 5.1% increase over the current year.


The increases for all other communities were also lessened. Winthrop, the only community whose share of the proposed budget decreased from last year, will see a larger decrease.

County Administrator Robert Devlin had initially cautioned that using more surplus now might mean raising taxes next year when the budget committee first met at the end of April.

This is the same discussion that committee members, all of whom are municipal officials from cities and towns across the county, are having as they draft their own spending plans.

But on Wednesday, Devlin said with the revenue reported from the Registry of Deeds this year, the surplus would remain healthy even after applying additional surplus to the spending plan.

With no objection to the revised draft spending plan, budget committee members turned their attention to the $23 million in federal relief funds the county is expecting to get.

“If you started to try to apply the money to all the possibilities out there, $23 million would be nothing,” Devlin said.


He said on Tuesday he had received a 151-page document outlining how those relief funds may be spent, and he had reviewed the section that applies to counties.

The funds can be used to pay for the costs of responding to the public health emergency or negative economic impacts, COVID-19 response and prevention, capital investments in public facilities to meet operational needs related to COVID-19, COVID-19 testing or monitoring and a range of other pandemic related expenses.

But, he noted, it cannot be used to reimburse spending that took place before March 3. Any funds not obligated by Dec. 31, 2024, and not spent by Dec. 31, 2026, must be returned.

They also cannot be applied to the county’s spending plan.

That means that money spent for extra cleaning and personal protective equipment at the Kennebec County jail before that won’t be reimbursed, but the cost of fit-testing jail staff for N-95 masks will because it’s taking place this month.

Among the other pandemic-related allowed uses are broadband, water projects, aid to affected industries including tourism and travel, and assistance to nonprofits.

Devlin said he anticipates setting up a meeting of the budget committee to start to talk about how the money can be spent within the next two months.

The next step for the county budget is two public hearings on the spending plan. By law, one public hearing must be held in the norther part of the county and one must be held in the southern part of the county.

The first will take place via Zoom at 5 p.m. June 2, hosted from Waterville. The second will take place at 5 p.m. June 3, hosted from Augusta. The budget committee vote is scheduled to take place after the Augusta hearing.

Related Headlines

Comments are no longer available on this story