Additional security at the historic Kennebec County Courthouse in Augusta is one of the new costs in the proposed county budget, which faces a public hearing Wednesday. The budget calls for an increase in taxpayer spending of 44%, driven largely by inflation. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal file

AUGUSTA — When the Kennebec County Budget Committee meets Wednesday to vote on the county’s proposed $23.7 million budget for the next fiscal year, it will consider a spending package that is $4.4 million, or almost 23%, more than the current year’s budget.

Because revenue that county officials have tapped in the past to reduce the impact on property taxes is not available this year, taxpayers across Kennebec County would pay $6.26 million more to pay for county spending, a 44% increase.

“It’s a story about the change in county government, and it’s a story about changes in labor markets, primarily,” Lloyd Irland, chairman of the Kennebec County Budget Committee and a member of the Wayne Select Board, said. “The fact is, this is what it costs to run county government, when you strip away the COVID grants, other economic development grants and paying down of something like $1 million of accumulated surplus.”

In Maine, county governments oversee the operations of the registries of deeds and probate, county jails, emergency management and local prosecutors. They also have to pay for the administrative costs of running county offices. In all, Kennebec County has 161 full-time and eight part-time employees on its payroll.

Under state law, the county budget committee, composed of elected and appointed municipal officials from each of the three county commissioner districts, annually reviews the county’s spending proposal and votes on its adoption.

Irland said Kennebec County has shaved and shaved in past budgets. Now, he said, it is down to the bone, and the model of creating a budget based on a small, fixed increase is out of date.


“We can’t use the old-fashioned way anymore,” he said. “The old-fashioned way is the budget has to go up by no more than X percent, and we have to squeeze in.”

The trouble is that model does not work, he said, particularly at the Kennebec County Correctional Facility in Augusta, where the Budget Committee has opted to unfreeze a number of positions and put more money toward corrections officer pay to make those salaries competitive.

Kennebec County Administrator Scott Ferguson said the proposed budget reflects years of holding the line on wages and maintenance, as well as increased jail medical costs for medication-assisted treatment mandated by the state.

“I tried my best to get supplemental funding for this year and next year,” Ferguson said, but the $4 million offered by state officials falls far short of what counties need to pay for the treatment program.

In his budget note, Ferguson also noted that with no funding support from the state, it is expected to cost county taxpayers $100,000 for the county to comply with the Maine Paid Family and Medical Leave Act.

County government is facing the same inflationary pressures that cities and towns are experiencing, paying more for ongoing expenses, including electricity and wages, which in many cases are determined by union contracts.


Among the new costs for Kennebec County: The addition of security to the county’s historic courthouse that houses the Kennebec County District Attorney’s Office and Probate Court.

The spending plan also includes funding to extend past September the county’s fledgling MD3 program, which puts physicians trained in emergency medicine on the road in Kennebec County five days a week to provide physician-level care at site of medical emergencies.

The program was initially funded with a grant from the county’s American Rescue Plan Act, or ARPA, funds, and county officials opted to extend that funding for the program, the first of its kind in northern New England, so it can continue to operate.

“These doctors are out there, and not only are they tending to be people, they are training paramedics on what to look for in certain cases,” Ferguson said, noting that it could also serve as a recruitment tool for physicians.

Ferguson said the program is progressive and helps residents of Kennebec County.

“It could become a lifesaving effort,” he said, “and the question becomes: What price do you put on a human life?”


He estimated the annual cost per resident for the program to be about $1.80.

To keep a lid on spending, county officials have put off a number of maintenance projects to county buildings over a number of years. Ferguson said the Kennebec County Commissioners have focused on catching up and have used ARPA funds to pay eligible projects, reducing the burden on those who pay property taxes.

The county’s tax assessment appears as one of three components on the municipal tax bill, and is generally the smallest. The other two components are the municipal share and the school district share.

Dr. Kelly Coussee-Meehan, one of the emergency medicine physicians in the MD3 program, works last year with Lt. Justin Lodolce of the Gardiner Fire Department. The MD3 program, which puts physicians trained in emergency medicine on the road in Kennebec County, would be extended under the county budget proposal. Jessica Lowell/Kennebec Journal file

By law, the Budget Committee must hold two public hearings on the proposed county budget. The first was last week in Waterville. At that meeting, the Budget Committee did not have a quorum and took no action.

The second and final public hearing is scheduled for 6 p.m. Wednesday at Hill House, the Kennebec County government building, at 125 State St. in Augusta. The public hearing is to be followed by a vote.

The budget is expected to go to county commissioners at their April 2 meeting, according to the budget calendar. Commissioners have the option to accept or reject the budget.

If the budget is accepted, the spending plan becomes final. If commissioners reject it by unanimous vote, it goes back to the Budget Committee for review, and the committee could decide whether to adopt any recommendations the commissioners send them. The committee may reject the commissioners’ recommendations by a two-thirds vote of its membership.

Those actions are final and not subject to any further action by either the commissioners or the Budget Committee.

“We have only one shot,” Patsy Crockett, chairwoman of the Kennebec County commissioners, said.

Related Headlines

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.