AUGUSTA — The final Kennebec County Budget Committee vote on the county’s $17.4 million spending plan, expected to take place Wednesday, has been delayed.

Following the second of two public hearings on the budget, no vote could take place because only four members of the nine-member Budget Committee attended the hearing. At least five committee members must be present to conduct business.

Scott Ferguson, Kennebec County administrator, said Thursday that the vote will be rescheduled, but a date has not yet been set.

During Wednesday’s public hearing in Augusta, Joseph Pietroski, a Republican running for the District 2 Kennebec County commissioner seat, said he wished the county budget could be changed over what he’d read in proposed state legislation spelled out in L.D. 1654 on jail funding.

“I don’t really know for sure, but if I read it correctly, they say they are putting $20 million in the county jails. Fantastic,” Pietroski said.

Ferguson said the effect of the legislation is not to add $20 million more to jails; it adds $1.9 million to the $18 million state government officials routinely appropriate for funding county jails.

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That state funding, however, is a small fraction of the cost of running the jails, which rests with county taxpayers.

“Unfortunately, the Legislature, when they do things, you can’t determine,” Pietroski said. “But more unfortunately you’ve got a situation where maybe you will get the money. But it would be nice to delay the process or at least change this budget to assume you’re going to get the money.”

Sarah Fuller, chairwoman of the Budget Committee, stopped Pietroski at that point.

“As any independent budgeting organization knows, you have to budget based on what your needs are and what your known revenues are, not what fictitious revenues may come in,” Fuller, who is also chairwoman of the Winthrop Town Council, said. “That would be the most highly irresponsible thing you could do for a budget, to plan expenditures on hoped-for revenues.”

The largest share of the proposed county budget, about 72% or $12.6 million, pays for the costs of law enforcement and the jail.

“Our budget is what our budget is,” Ferguson said. “That’s just a portion (of the jail budget), which (has) been built in to the tax base. It’s nothing new.”

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Pietroski said he thinks there is some uncertainty about what the funding is doing.

“That’s always the case with what the Legislature passes,” Fuller said. “As you know from your role on the (Winthrop) school board, our roles on town councils and our roles here at the county Budget (Committee), we’re responsible to budget and fund key essential operations that support the residents of our communities. We have to do that regardless of what the Legislature does.”

Theresa Haskell, County Budget Committee member and Windsor town manager, said if the state money comes, it can be applied in the next budget year to reduce that budget.

“Who knows what next year is going to bring? It could bring in more expenses. Who knows what gas is going to do? The cost of everything goes up,” Haskell said.

Pietroski said he’s getting bombarded by people who are in dire straits, and he’s looking for ways so that people will be able to afford their gasoline or their food, and it’s not happening.

Ferguson said he has asked county department heads to identify unfunded mandates from the state and determine what the cost of those mandates are to the county.

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