Looking ahead, council debates budget freeze

BAR HARBOR — Amid concerns about a looming crisis in state and local budgets due to economic disruption from the COVID-19 pandemic, the Town Council floated the idea of asking the Hancock County commissioners to freeze the county budget. 

Councilor Gary Friedmann asked the council to consider writing to the commissioners to ask them to freeze the county budget for 2021 (the county’s budget year is the calendar year). The proposal failed in a split 4-3 vote: Councilors Erin Cough, Jill Goldthwait, Matthew Hochman and Val Peacock opposed the idea. Councilors Friedmann, Jeff Dobbs and Joe Minutolo voted in favor. 

Bar Harbor’s county assessment in the current year is $786,763, Friedmann said, close to 8 percent of the amount raised by property taxes. “The town gets really minimal benefit from the county,” he said, “and the assessment is based on the tax base, not the use we get out of county services.” 

The county commissioners recently approved hiring and outfitting another sheriff’s deputy at a Zoom meeting in June that drew much more public interest than most commissioners’ meetings. Sheriff Scott Kane had also requested the purchase of protective riot gear for his officers, but withdrew the request prior to the meeting. 

The county budget increases “always exceed town increases,” Friedmann said. “There’s no way to buffer taxpayers from those increases unless we reduce our municipal expenditures even further.” 

Councilor Jill Goldthwait called the request for a freeze a “blunt instrument that may not be helpful.” She encouraged councilors to participate in the county Budget Advisory Committee, whose members will be elected in an upcoming district caucus. 

Liz Graves

Liz Graves

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Former Islander reporter and editor Liz Graves grew up in California and came to Maine as a schooner sailor.

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