Hearings slated on $41M Cumberland County budget

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PORTLAND — Four public hearings have been scheduled on Cumberland County’s proposed $41 million budget, a nearly $430,000 increase over the current budget.

The local assessment of the proposed budget would be more than $22.6 million, since the rest of the budget is funded by state and federal grants and other revenues.

Cumberland County Manager Peter Crichton said the proposed budget represents a 1.76-percent tax increase. Taxpayers would see an average increase of one cent on the mil rate, from 52 to 53 cents.

Crichton said the budget includes a 2 percent cost-of-living increase for county employees, since no COLA was given last year and merit pay raises have been suspended for the last two years.

The COLA increase, totalling more than $140,000, is intended to keep the county a competitive place to work, Crichton said.

Meanwhile, the budget restores $35,000 in funding for the Spring Harbor jail diversion program, which was eliminated when the state consolidated jail operations in 2009.

Crichton said the funding was restored by the county’s Budget Advisory Committee, because it works with inmates who are being released from prison, so they are less likely to return.

The budget also eliminates one position at the Registry of Deeds, while adding a position at the Criminal Investigation Division of the Sheriff’s Department to deal with an increase in rural crime, and a management position at the Regional Communications Center.

An additional $25,000 in funding has been allocated to Preble Street Soup Kitchen and the Wayside Soup Kitchen to help them deal with the increase in demand for food services.

The budget also includes a $1.35 million Capital Improvement Program, which is funded from reserves and doesn’t affect the tax rate, Crichton said.

The CIP will fund 27 projects, including $225,000 for ongoing maintenance at the courthouse parking garage in Portland and $70,500 for hazardous materials teams.

Another $32,000 has been budgeted this year and next, Crichton said, to install a unified database in the district attorney’s office that will allow law enforcement agencies to share criminal data.

More than $213,000 has been allotted for maintenance of the Cumberland County Civic Center. Another $200,000 has been budgeted to produce drawings and design work for proposed renovations to the center.

Last month, a special task force approved the concept of adding premium seating, upgrading concession stands, adding more loading docks and restrooms and enhanced backstage facilities to the Civic Center.

The cost of renovating the 6,700-seat venue, estimated between $27 million and $29 million, must be approved by voters, who could see the question on the November 2011 ballot.

The first public hearing on the budget will take place in Portland on Monday, Nov. 8, at 6:30 p.m. at the Cumberland County Courthouse, 250 Newbury St. Another hearing will take place the following evening at 6 p.m. at Scarborough Town Hall, 259 U.S. Route 1.

Additional hearings will take place on Nov. 15 at 6 p.m. at Freeport Town Hall, 30 Main St., and Nov. 18 at 6 p.m. at the broadcast studio at the Jordan Small Middle School in Raymond.

Crichton said the Cumberland County Board of Commissioners will convene for a budget meeting after the public hearings, before taking a final vote sometime in December.

If approved, the budget would take effect on Jan. 1, 2011.

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or rbillings@theforecaster.net.