Wesley Landers, a Kennebec County correctional officer, speaks Wednesday to members of the Kennebec County Budget Committee and members of the public during a county budget meeting at Hill House in Augusta. Anna Chadwick/Morning Sentinel

AUGUSTA — The Kennebec County Budget Committee will take a little more time before voting on the proposed county government spending plan and forwarding it for the county commissioners’ consideration.

That decision came after an hourlong public hearing Wednesday, when the Budget Committee faced a standing-room-only crowd in the conference room at Hill House, the Kennebec County government building on State Street in Augusta.

People rarely attend Kennebec County Commissioners meetings. Public hearings on the proposed budget, held both in Waterville and Augusta, rarely draw any interest.

This year, though, municipal officials, including seven of the nine Augusta City Council members, filled the seats, as did county officials and corrections officers from the Kennebec County Correctional Facility in Augusta.

At issue is the proposed $23.7 million spending plan that is 22% greater than the current budget. Because revenue that county officials have tapped in the past has either decreased or is no longer available, the portion proposed to be raised by taxation has increased by nearly 44%, to $20.5 million.

Municipal officials made their case to county Budget Committee members that any increase in the county assessment would be damaging to their constituents, who have seen their cost of living rise and rise again under historic post-COVID-19 pandemic inflation spikes.


Augusta City Councilor Eric Lind of Ward 4 speaks Wednesday to the Kennebec County Budget Committee about the dramatic increase in the county’s proposed spending plan, during a budget meeting at Hill House in Augusta. Anna Chadwick/Morning Sentinel

Two of the officials — Augusta City Councilor Eric Lind of Ward 4 and Gardiner Mayor Patricia Hart — talked about United for ALICE, a United Way initiative that measures financial hardship. ALICE is an acronym for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed.

“I understand the need is always great, and the county could always use more money,” said Lind, who has served on the county Budget Committee and just completed his term serving on the board of United Way of Kennebec County. “But I want to give you a little different perspective.”

In Kennebec County, Lind said, 12% of the population lives below the poverty level. Under an ALICE analysis, an additional 30% of county residents cannot make ends meet — based on what they make — in the current economy.

Hart, who provided a town-by-town breakdown of the ALICE analysis to the Budget Committee, said when taxpayers cannot pay all their bills, they pay their medical bills, they pay their food bills and they pay their utilities, but they do not pay their taxes.

“What happens is they come to us,” she said. “Probably the hardest thing we have to do as elected officials is to go through the tax-acquired property process.”

When property owners do not pay their property taxes, municipal officials can place liens on the property. If the liens are not satisfied within a certain time period, cities and towns can take possession of the properties and sell them to satisfy the debt.


Hart noted that in Gardiner, officials marked the opening of the Hannaford supermarket Wednesday, which had closed to repair water damage in the wake of historic flooding in December. Those who lost homes and vehicles in the flood cannot afford a higher county tax, and Hart asked the Budget Committee to consider phasing in increases in a series of steps over time, rather than all at once.

Kennebec County Sheriff Ken Mason speaks Wednesday during the county Budget Committee meeting at Hill House in Augusta. Anna Chadwick/Morning Sentinel

One of the causes of increases to the county’s spending plan is increasing pay for corrections officers at the Kennebec County Correctional Facility.

To address chronic shortages at the jail, the Budget Committee opted to unfreeze corrections officer positions and fund them at a higher rate of pay in the proposed budget, which is allowable in the contract.

Advocates for corrections officers and the corrections officers themselves said they are among the 42% of county residents who cannot make ends meet on what they are paid at the jail.

Bryan Slaney, who has served as jail administrator for the past 2 1/2 years, said the jail is budgeted to have 52 corrections staff members.

“Historically, we’ve never had that,” Slaney said. “During COVID, we were running with 25 corrections officers in jail. Currently, as of (Tuesday), we were running at 40, 41. It changes every day. Staff is resigning, staff is not well.”


Union corrections staff members, he said, were able to appeal to the Budget Committee for a 7% increase on their negotiated wage, which would bring their starting pay from $18.99 an hour to slightly more than $20 an hour.

Jillian St. Pierre, a staff sergeant at the jail, told the Budget Committee during its review earlier this year that some jail staff members have been homeless in the past few years and living in their cars. Two of the officers stayed at her home with her family for about two months to be able to save enough money to get an apartment. Others still live with their parents because they do not earn enough to pay for an apartment.

Some municipal officials faulted county government for using federal American Rescue Plan Act, or ARPA, funds to create ongoing programs from the one-time revenue source.

The Kennebec County Budget Committee meets Wednesday in Augusta to address the dramatic increase in the county’s proposed spending plan for the coming budget year. Anna Chadwick/Morning Sentinel

District 2 Commissioner Joseph Pietroski Jr., who represents communities in central and southern Kennebec County, corrected that assumption.

“As far as I know, from the money we received from ARPA, only one program is continuing, and that’s the MD3 program,” Pietroski said.

The first-of-its-kind program in northern New England, MD3 puts an emergency medicine physician in a vehicle to be available to respond to emergencies at the scene of serious accidents when physician-level care can make a difference. It was funded on a pilot basis through ARPA. The initial funding is set to expire in September, but a budget request would extend it.


The remainder of the county’s ARPA funds have been allocated to pay for affordable housing projects and other requests from Kennebec County cities and towns.

Kennebec County was one of many government entities to receive settlement funds from class action lawsuits brought against opioid makers and distributors. The money was used to defray costs in the current budget, but it is not available again.

County Administrator Scott Ferguson said the revenue picture for the proposed spending plan is not entirely clear because it relies in part on funding from the Maine Legislature, which is still in session and has not completed its work.

The Budget Committee was originally expected to vote on its proposed spending plan Wednesday, but tabled the issue. The committee is expected to take it up again at a meeting scheduled for 6 p.m. on April 9.

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