Panel approves Androscoggin County budget that cuts increase from 12% to 6.77%

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Oct. 23—AUBURN — Forced to make to one final adjustment when County Administrator Larry Post said a recently completed audit revealed less money in a reserve account than anticipated, the Androscoggin County Budget Committee completed its work Wednesday on the 2022 budget.

If accepted by commissioners next month, the budget will rise by 6.77% over last year. The original proposal by commissioners would have raised county taxes by more than 12%.

"We've squeezed the budget as far as we could and beyond Administrator Post's comfort level," Budget Committee Chairwoman Alicia Rea of Lewiston said.

Post definitely felt squeezed when the preliminary jail audit revealed that only $246,000 was in the reserve account. The committee had recommended using $300,000 from that account to help reduce the tax rate. Post had recommended using only $100,000 from that account.

Facing the reality of overdrawing the reserve account, the committee reluctantly added $100,000 back into reserves, effectively reducing expected revenues by the same amount.

Andrew Titus of Auburn said he was frustrated that the windfall from the American Rescue Plan Act funds could not be better used to help lower the tax rate. Androscoggin County is scheduled to receive more than $20 million as part of the federal package.

"I really appreciate the work that's happened the past few weeks, but I really am disappointed we have — and that's not the fault of this board or maybe not so much the commissioners — but to have so much money coming in and to pass this increase is unprecedented. And in terms of unfairness to the taxpayers, the money is here and we can't have it. To me, we really did a disservice when we received this kind of cash and yet we hand an increase like this the same year," Titus said.

Vice Chairman Allen Ward of Lisbon, who compiled the final numbers, said he did not agree with every deduction and was disappointed they could not get the tax increase below 6%, but supported the overall package and believes the committee did all that it could to lower the rate.

The committee unanimously supported the budget, which will be presented to the commissioners for final approval on Nov. 3.

At the commission meeting that preceded the committee's session, the board approved borrowing up to $6 million if needed for a tax anticipation loan from Androscoggin Bank at 1.24%. Isaiah Lary of Wales was the only commissioner to oppose the annual request.

A first reading was held on an amendment to the bylaws written by Commissioner John Michael of Auburn that clarifies how commissioners can place an item on the agenda.

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