District 3 Kennebec County Commissioner George Jabar, left, signs county budget documents Wednesday as District 1 Commissioner Patsy Crockett looks on. The commissioners and the County Budget Committee reached an agreement on county spending for the upcoming year that reduces the amount to be raised through property taxes. Jessica Lowell/Kennebec Journal

AUGUSTA — Kennebec County commissioners and the county’s Budget Committee have agreed on a $23.3 million budget, with taxpayers responsible for raising nearly $18.3 million of that total.

That adds up to nearly a 28% increase in what taxpayers are expected to fund over what was approved a year ago, but is 16 percentage points less than the 44% increase that was originally proposed earlier this year and 3 percentage points lower than the revised spending plan the committee endorsed two weeks ago.

To reach the accord on county spending, officials agreed to a series of changes the commissioners identified last week to further trim spending and increase revenue to pay for that spending.

In 12 minutes Wednesday evening, commissioners approved their version of the budget. In turn, the Budget Committee voted to approve the county’s revised spending plan. They also approved the budget for Unity Township, an unorganized territory in Kennebec County.

The budget includes a $1.6 million incremental increase to wages, with a corresponding $633,000 increase in benefits to provide competitive wages for positions the county has a hard time keeping filled. Those include corrections officers at the jail and employees in the Registry of Deeds and District Attorney offices.

It also includes funding several legislative mandates that came with no funding to pay for them, including a medication-assisted treatment program at the Kennebec County jail and the state’s new Paid Family and Medical Leave Act.

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County officials are also waiting for final word on funding for the Kennebec County jail that was approved by the Maine State Legislature. In all, $4 million was approved but that will be divided among the state’s 15 county jails to help pay for operations.

Among the changes to the final budget is the removal of the purchase of two vehicles and a delay in filling a human resources position until January, so that only half that position’s salary would be paid in this budget cycle. The final budget also scales back a position in the county’s Emergency Management Agency from full time to half time.

The county will fund the MD3 program for the last three months of the calendar year. The program allows an emergency medicine physician to respond to serious incidents in Kennebec County. The launch of the pilot program was funded through federal American Rescue Plan Act funds. Grants and other sources of funding will be sought to continue the program after Dec. 31.

“As chair of the Budget Committee, I feel so sad we had to use so much of your time,” Lloyd Irland, a selectman from Wayne, said. “There was no reason for it to be time after time after time, but it’s done.”

District 1 Commissioner Patsy Crockett and chairwoman of the commissioners expressed her thanks for those who reviewed the budget and attended the meetings.

Lloyd Irland, a selectman from Wayne and chairman of the Kennebec County Budget Committee, signs budget documents Wednesday at Hill House in Augusta, where Kennebec County government offices are located. Jessica Lowell/Kennebec Journal

“We will still continue to hear from the public, I’m sure,” Crockett said, “and we will be working on next year’s budget with the Budget Committee off and on during the upcoming year, not to be in the spot we were in this year.”

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While Wednesday’s approval came earlier than in prior years, it was about six weeks later than anticipated this year. The budget review process has been marked by outrage on the part of local elected officials facing increases from school districts and in their own proposed spending and by absenteeism on the part of Budget Committee members.

While the meeting room at Hill House, the home of county government in Kennebec County, had been packed in the past with municipal representatives unhappy about proposed spending, very few people attended the final budget meeting Wednesday.

Irland said he hopes some changes can come to the county’s budget process, including more meetings earlier in the year and the ability for cities and towns to remit taxes to the county more than once a year, but that would take action by the Maine Legislature.

Few people attend the twice-monthly county commission meetings during the year.

In Maine, the functions of county government — which includes operations of sheriff’s departments and county jails as well as registries of deeds, probate courts and local prosecution of crimes — is paid for by via property tax. The county’s assessment appears alongside the assessment for the local school district on property tax bills issued by cities and towns.

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