With union negotiations still ongoing, the Lincoln County Board of Commissioners adopted the 2016 county budget Monday, Dec. 28 to submit to the state by the end of the year. The budget will undergo further revision when contracts with the county’s three bargaining units are finalized and the 2015 audit is complete, commissioners said.
The 2016 budget, unanimously approved, reflects changes in keeping with the recommendations of the Lincoln County Budget Advisory Committee, which recommended that the county reduce the amount paid out in health care coverage.
As of April 1, 2016, all non-unionized county employees will contribute 10 percent to their single or family health care premiums. Previously, the county covered 100 percent of the premium for non-unionized county employees’ single health care coverage and 97 percent of the premium for family health care coverage.
The change was a source of savings, however, the savings was offset by an 11 percent premium increase from the county’s health care provider, Lincoln County Administrator John O’Connell said.
On its fifth draft, expenditures in the 2016 budget reflected a 2.86 percent increase from the previous year’s expenditures, as opposed to the 3.88 percent increase in a previous version of the 2016 budget.
Expenditures for 2016 are $10,978,019 in the approved budget, an increase of $305,002 from the previous year’s budget of $10,673,017.
The budget reflects the second step in a process that began well over a year ago to increase the salaries of undercompensated non-unionized county employees to market rates. The second phase of the recommendations of consulting firm L. Bouchard and Associates were implemented in the 2016 budget, Finance Director Carrie Kipfer said.
There are no changes to the compensation for personnel in the county’s three bargaining units – the sheriff’s office, the communications center, and the communications center supervisors – in the 2016 budget, commissioners said. The budget maintains “the status quo” for compensation rates in the current contracts, which will expire on Dec. 31, Commissioner Hamilton Meserve said.
Commissioners and county officials declined to comment on how potential wage increases for bargaining unit employees would be accounted for in the 2016 budget. Any change to unionized employees’ contributions to health care premiums would have to be negotiated, Kipfer said.
Currently, the county covers 100 percent of the premium for unionized employees’ single health care coverage and 85 percent for family health care coverage. It is unclear when contract negotiations will be completed, commissioners said.
Commissioners are hopeful contracts will be finalized before the tax commitment for municipalities is set. In 2015, the tax commitment was determined in May. The county tax commitment is set based on the municipalities’ valuations, which determines each municipality’s share of the overall county budget, Commissioner Bill Blodgett said.
According to the approved 2016 budget, the county is anticipating non-tax revenue of $1,441,656, a $45,000 decrease from the previous year, although the commissioners have yet to determine how much surplus to apply to the 2016 budget.
The county is hopeful the 2015 audit will be completed by mid-March, O’Connell said. Once the audit is complete and the surplus figure for 2015 is known, the county will be able to determine how much surplus to apply to the 2016 budget to reduce the tax commitment for municipalities.
During the budget-setting process, members of the budget advisory committee took issue with a new line item in county departments’ budgets for retirement contributions. Previously, retirement contributions were funded through an interest-bearing account the county had established through the Maine Public Employees Retirement System.
Due to a change in the Maine Public Employees Retirement System, the interest-bearing account was closed and the county received a refund of $645,000. Approximately $160,000 of the refund was used to purchase the Lincoln County Regional Planning Commission’s new headquarters on Bath Road, leaving the county with a remaining refund of approximately $485,000.
Lincoln County Budget Advisory Committee Chair Chester Rice said the remaining amount should be used to fund retirement contributions, as opposed to raising the money from taxpayers. No decision on how to apply the remaining refund has been made, county officials said.
According to commissioners, they are waiting on the results of the audit before making a formal decision on the refund.
The county’s new fiscal year will begin Jan. 1, 2016. The commissioners will open bids for a tax anticipation note, a type of short-term loan, at their next scheduled meeting to help with cash flow before taxes are collected from municipalities.
While many factors, such as union negotiations and an unknown surplus figure, will cause the 2016 county budget to be revised before municipalities’ tax commitment is set, “this was the best estimate we could make at the time we have to submit,” O’Connell said.