Wesley Landers, a Kennebec County correctional officer, speaks from the podium March 27 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 file

AUGUSTA — Faced with vocal opposition to a proposed spending plan, the Kennebec County Budget Committee is suggesting dropping an innovative medical program to save about $230,000, upping revenue projections by $600,000 and finding ways to cut hundreds of thousands of dollars more.

Without cuts, the proposed $23.7 million budget would require a 44% increase in the tax that property owners pay for county spending.

Budget committee members also set their sights on six county positions that were previously under a hiring freeze, but had been proposed to be filled if officials could find candidates for the jobs. Putting those positions back in the deep freeze could save another $400,000.

Even with those changes and other suggestions that could cut about $1.2 million from the proposed budget, it would still result in a 33% increase in the amount property owners would pay to the county through municipal taxes.

Committee members made suggestions — but took no votes — at a specially called budget hearing Tuesday night. They directed County Administrator Scott Ferguson to draft a budget with the cuts they had discussed. They also asked Ferguson to include other cuts he might recommend to reduce the budget’s impact on taxpayers.

Ferguson balked at making recommendations on cuts because the spending plan is currently up to the Budget Committee to consider.


In response, Theresa Haskell, a member of the budget committee and town manager in Windsor, said it is part of Ferguson’s responsibility as an administrator to recommend budget cuts if policymakers say they need be made.

“I mean, a 43.8% increase, to me, is huge,” Haskell said of the increase in taxpayers’ money that would be needed to fund the budget. “Working for the town, if I ever came in over 20%, or 30%, it’d be like, ‘No way.’ You have to figure it out. I’d like to hear some sort of feedback, and I’m not getting that, so I don’t know what to do.”

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.

The payroll for Kennebec County includes 161 full-time and eight part-time employees.

Ferguson’s initial draft budget submitted to the Kennebec County Commissioners would have resulted in a 20% property tax increase. Committee members then added items to the budget, including funds for an additional 7% pay increase for jail workers, on top of an already contracted 7% increase.

Sheriff Ken Mason said the increased pay is necessary to attract workers to the high-turnover jobs at the Kennebec County Correctional Facility in Augusta.


Committee members praised the new MD3 program, even as they recommended cutting it, to save about $230,000. The program puts doctors into the field to respond to emergency medical calls in the county, providing on-the-scene expertise and physician-level care to help other emergency responders and people with medical needs, including life-threatening conditions.

The MD3 program, the first of its kind in northern New England, was begun with money from the American Rescue Plan Act, but the funding is expiring and the county would be responsible for picking up the remainder of the cost for next year.

Dr. Tim Pieh drives the MD3 response vehicle Jan. 18 in Clinton. Funding for the program could be cut as officials look to reduce the proposed budget for Kennebec County. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal file

“Our priority is to maintain the basic services we provide before we start to add,” committee member Eric Austin, a city councilor in Augusta, said. “MD3 is worthy, but it was funded with ARPA funds and, looking forward, it doesn’t seem like something our constituents have the appetite for right now.”

A few municipal officials, including selectmen and China Town Manager Becky Hapgood, attended Tuesday’s session to ask questions and say the proposed 44% tax increase for county taxes was too much for their residents to afford.

“I understand inflation is driving everybody up, but you’ve got to realize, our constituents can’t just say: ‘Things are getting more expensive. I need 44% more money,'” China Selectman Wayne Chadwick said.

Committee members also suggested the Kennebec County Commissioners consider borrowing funds for major capital improvements, instead of paying for them upfront from the budget or putting money aside for them over multiple years.


The Kennebec County Budget Committee meets March 27 in Augusta to address the significant increase in the county’s proposed spending plan for the coming budget year. Anna Chadwick/Morning Sentinel file

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.

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 county 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 further action by the commissioners or the budget committee.

Committee members said they could consider a vote on the proposed budget — possibly in a Zoom meeting — after Ferguson provides updated numbers and information on the impact of the cuts they have suggested.

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