An inmate pod is shown at the Somerset County Jail in 2019. Residents on Wednesday will have a chance to weigh in on the proposed county budget at a public hearing at the Somerset County Superior Courthouse in Skowhegan. The budget includes $11.17 million for the operation of the jail, as well as $13.07 million for other county operations. Morning Sentinel file

SKOWHEGAN — Residents of Somerset County will have a chance to weigh in on a proposed county budget that would raise property taxes 3.1% before it is voted on by the county’s Budget Committee and the Board of Commissioners.

The public hearing will be held on Wednesday at 6 p.m. in the courtroom at the Somerset County Superior Courthouse at 41 Court St. in Skowhegan.

Somerset County Administrator Tim Curtis Morning Sentinel file

After members of the public speak, the 10-person Budget Committee is expected to approve or modify the final budget figures. Following that vote, the five county commissioners are expected to vote on the Budget Committee’s proposal; they are only allowed to make changes with a two-thirds majority.

The proposed 3.1% increase in taxation comes after taxpayers were hit with a 9.8% increase last year, largely due to a rise in wages and inflation in the costs of materials and services, according to County Administrator Tim Curtis. The budget process this spring was “fairly quiet,” Curtis said.

Spending in the proposed budget totals approximately $11.71 million for the Somerset County Jail and $13.07 million for county operations. Services provided by the county include the Sheriff’s Office, emergency management agency, 911 communications center, registry of deeds, probate court, and district attorney’s office.

Of that total spending, the amount funded by property taxes would be $15.15 million, a 3.1% increase over the amount raised by taxation last year. That figure, which includes a 1% overlay, breaks down to $6.9 million for the jail and approximately $8.1 million for other county departments. The remaining spending is covered by other sources of revenue.


How residents’ tax bills across the county will be affected by the overall 3.1% increase depends on the state valuation for each community. Each town’s share of the budget is calculated based on its state valuation in relation to the total valuation of the six towns.

In general, larger towns in the county, like Skowhegan and Fairfield, had their valuations increase more than smaller towns, so their assessments would see a greater increase under the proposed budget, Curtis said.

Most department budgets stayed relatively flat compared to last year, Curtis said, but the proposed budget does include several new positions at additional cost to taxpayers.

The proposed budget adds a deputy director to both the communications center and emergency management agency, each at a total cost of about $100,000 for wages and benefits. The additional positions result in having a director and deputy director staff each department.

In the last several years, the county has had two employees who together oversaw the emergency management agency and communications center.

But both departments have an increasingly heavy workload, Curtis said. The communications center continues to take an increasing number of calls, even after the county stopped taking calls from parts of Kennebec County, according to Curtis. The emergency management agency has had to handle three disaster declarations from December 2022 to December 2023.


A review of other counties’ staffing found that every other county has a director and deputy director staffing their emergency management agencies, Curtis said.

The budget also includes one new patrol deputy in the Sheriff’s Office, bringing the number of patrol deputies to 17. The total cost of the new position, including training, equipment, and a cruiser, is approximately $200,000.

Somerset County Sheriff Dale Lancaster Morning Sentinel file

Sheriff Dale Lancaster plans to request funding for an 18th patrol deputy next year to properly staff the department, which has been dealing with staffing issues in recent months, Curtis said.

“Despite the challenges to recruit and retain law enforcement across the board, the Commissioners and Budget Committee members were in agreement with the plan,” Curtis said in an email.

Staffing shortages in the Sheriff’s Office and other departments have led to constant vacancies among the county’s 147 full-time budgeted positions, Curtis said. That has led to a surplus, and the proposed budget includes the use of about $400,000 in fund balance to offset taxation for the non-jail departments.

“It’s not a good thing — ideally you’d be fully staffed,” Curtis said in an interview, noting that staffing levels have improved since last year.


About $1.7 million in fund balance would also be used toward the total $11.71 million proposed jail budget.

Under state law, the amount a county can increase taxes for funding a jail is capped. This year, Somerset County was only allowed to increase the amount raised by taxation for the jail to $6.9 million, and the state is forecasted to contribute just over $997,000 for the jail.

That leaves the remaining costs to be covered by the fund balance and expected revenues from housing federal inmates and inmates from other counties.

This year is also the first time since the county jail in East Madison was completed in 2008 that taxpayers will not be raising additional funds for debt service on the jail, which created room in the budget for other expenses, Curtis said. The county is still paying off the debt but is doing so using funds already raised and placed in escrowed accounts, he said.

Somerset County’s charter dictates a budget preparation process that is somewhat different than most other Maine counties, since it gives the Budget Committee considerable influence during the process, Curtis said.

The Board of Commissioners first creates a proposed budget, which the Budget Committee can then change. After holding a public hearing, the Budget Committee, made up of two elected or appointed officials from each of the five commissioners’ districts, then sends it back to the Board of Commissioners to adopt.

The Board of Commissioners can only make changes at that stage with a two-thirds majority vote, the charter says. Even then, the Budget Committee can override any changes made by the Board of Commissioners with its own two-thirds majority.

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