County budget

The Hancock County Commission recently revealed that its proposed 2018 budget would require a tax assessment increase of 5.68 percent over this year. Taxes raised on the county’s communities would be slightly over $5.8 million in a total budget of $8,363,578 for the operation of the various county departments.

While the gross number captures our attention, historical data indicate the proposed budget is barely $135,000 more than it was in 2016 — a year that required a steep tax increase for jail expenditures and other capital expenses uncommon in other years. In fact, this year’s Hancock County budget assessment for taxes is 12 percent greater than it was 10 years ago, while expenditures have increased by 16.5 percent during this period. It’s an impressive exercise of responsible governing in an age when many government institutions regularly post annual double-digit overruns.

This year’s budget adds two staffers, which, according to records supplied by County Administrator Scott Adkins, would increase total Hancock County employment by two employees since 2007. Given additional requests for compliance, increased regulatory expansion in all facets of each department, plus the ever-increasing requests for county services, the three county commissioners and their Budget Committee deserve recognition for practicing restraint in the face of crushing workload demands.

Most assuredly, a 5.68 percent increase should not be taken lightly. Senior citizens haven’t received a similar increase in Social Security next year. Retirees and savers haven’t seen anything better than 1.5 percent interest on their bank accounts for the past decade. The state’s economy is yet to mirror the record expansion occurring nationally, with 3.5 percent growth. Commissioner Percy “Joe” Brown of Deer Isle, the sole dissenter to this year’s proposed budget, framed his outlook as: “I think it is just too big a bite all in one year.”

Adkins suggests that this year’s county budget addresses issues long deferred.

“County government has not grown for several years, which is one issue,” Adkins said. But technology mandates — one of the proposed positions is a tech job — and state and federal regulations have. “All of this didn’t happen overnight and will take some time to change … This year’s budget has taken a huge step in the right direction by taking care of many historical issues.”

The single issue that the county budget, each community’s budget, even the state budget has to confront is how much the government can realistically be expected to control, fix, remedy, correct and otherwise address perceived needs.

While common-sense restraint has been apparent in addressing the Hancock County budget, there will be a time when the dam breaks and the tax assessment overwhelms what citizens can, or want, to pay. In light of declining rural Hancock County populations, plus heightening demands for services in each of those communities, will county government continue to expand by necessity?

While budgetary records suggest restraint and competence, property taxes largely fund 70 percent of Hancock County’s government. Planning for the future should start now.

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