Knox County towns consider collaboration
Rockland — Knox County Commissioners and town leaders met Jan. 7 to discuss ideas on how to save money through municipal collaboration.
County Commissioner Roger Moody said at the start of the meeting he wanted municipalities to talk about how they could work together to reduce costs through collaboration, such as sharing programs or positions. Towns were encouraged to exchange ideas and consider options.
Moody cited cuts to municipal revenue sharing, rising school budgets and low employment in towns as the reason for the meeting.
"We are all under an increasing financial squeeze," he said.
General assistance, a program where citizens are provided financial aid in an emergency situation, could be an area of concern for towns. The program can encompass a variety of needs including providing money for housing, food, and burial services. Hope Town Administrator Jon Duke suggested a regional office where individuals seeking assistance would go to access resources. Town employees said they do not always have time to go through an application with residents.
Union Town Manager Jay Feyler said if Gov. Paul LePage is reelected, general assistance may not function as it does today. He said the burden is being placed on towns, which will inflict major changes and financial strains at the municipal level.
"Reform needs to come in all different ways," Feyler said, not just at the state level. The main area of concern is that general assistance is too flexible, with no hard and set rules for qualification, he said.
Currently, the state reimburses towns for half of what they spend on general assistance, said Feyler during a telephone interview after the meeting. That shared expense could be cut, leaving towns to pay the entire cost, as well as supplying aid to families that reach the 60-month limit on state housing assistance through the temporary assistance for needy families program. Once the five-year limit on state aid is reached, those receiving help for housing costs can go to the town for general assistance aid.
Towns are mandated by the state to provide aid through general assistance.
According to state data, in December 2013, there were 155 TANF cases in Knox County, costing a total of $65,000, with 213 children recipients of aid.
Buying in bulk
An area identified for sharing included purchasing commodity items in bulk, including asphalt, sand and salt, and heating fuel. Purchasing such items that all town use in bulk would lower costs, said Ray Sisk, emergency management director for Knox County.
Animal Control Officers
St. George Select Board Chairman Bill Reinhardt said finding an animal control officer and training them sufficiently for a small town has been a challenge. He also added officers should have back up from the Knox County Sheriff's Office as often the dispute involving an animal occurs between neighbors who may not get along.
South Thomaston Town Clerk John Spear said the issue does need looking into, adding some towns in the county have a good system where animal management is concerned while others may not. The caveat, all agreed, was each town may have differing ordinances managing animal control, which would be difficult for the county to take over as a combined service.
The plan could also be cost prohibitive, said Knox County Administrator Andrew Hart, as an analysis found in 2009. Although a town may spend $4,000 annually on having a animal control officer, a county fee may be $6,000. The service may be better, but the cost may not be, he said.
Fire and EMS departments
Feyler said he sees a future in a regional ambulance and fire service which could be cost effective, rather than each town having a fire chief and its own department. St. George, which this year is paying for three full-time paramedics, as opposed to a volunteer service, did so because citizens said their priority was having a short response time. Town officials said time would tell whether the change is financially sustainable.
The topic of energy sources was discussed briefly, when Marguerite Cutroni, a select board member from St. George, inquired whether other towns had considered utilizing solar energy. Some towns agreed it was worth looking into, with lease to own plans and the cost of solar paneling decreasing.
Courier Publications' reporter Juliette Laaka can be reached at 594-4401 ext. 118 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.