ROCKLAND — The Knox County Commissioners gave final approval Thursday night to a 2023 budget that has spending up 13 percent.

The 2-0 vote by the Commissioners on Dec. 15 overrode the rejection of the $17,576,457 budget for 2023 by the Knox County Budget Committee. The budget committee had voted 4-3 against the budget. The county charter allows commissioners to override the budget committee unless the budget committee votes by a two-thirds margin.

Budget committee members who voted against the budget were Robert Duke of Rockport, Randy Stearns of Camden, Nicholas Lapham of St. George, and Charles Grover of Thomaston. Voting for it were Chair Roger Peabody of Warren, Vera Roberts of Rockland, and Barry Norris of Union.

Duke said the 2023 county budget bothered him more than any other budget he has been involved. Duke is a veteran member of the budget committee, served one term as a county commissioner, and was a Rockport Select Board member.

There were no members of the public at the Dec. 15 hearing and final vote but the meeting was streamed live on the county website.

“If the people could speak through the camera, I hope they would be screaming at us,” Duke said.

Duke said he compared the Knox County budget to neighboring Waldo County and could not understand how Knox was so much higher in spending.

Stearns said this would be his last time on the budget committee, saying he has had enough. He criticized the approval years ago of wage adjustments that gave out raises as great as 43 percent. He also criticized the system in which there is an annual cost-of-living increase and step increases on the salary scale “just for showing up to work.”

He also voiced criticism of the decision by the county to give out $1.4 million in bonuses to employees from the American Rescue Plan Act money.

Commissioner Sharyn Pohlman, who along with Commission Chair Dorothy Meriwether voted for the budget, spoke out after the meeting. She said she would like to ask the budget committee members who voted against the budget where they would have cut the budget.

Pohlman said the largest increases were public safety departments.

“Do you make cuts to dispatch where people call 911 for emergency services? Do you make cuts to the Sheriff’s Office so that towns that depend on the department will have to wait longer for a response? Do you close the corrections facility?” Pohlman asked.

She said the commissioners acted responsibly in approving the budget.

The meeting was the final one for Meriwether who did not seek re-election. She is being succeeded by Ed Glaser of Rockland who will take office Jan. 1.

The larger budget is due to wage increases, rising health insurance costs and additional staffing.

County Administrator Andrew Hart said last month he was not happy with the increase but that the decision by the county to increase pay to retain and recruit employees was largely behind the increase.

The largest account in the county budget is Corrections, which was approved at $5.7 million, an increase of more than $700,000. The budget calls for creating a diversion deputy for $50,263 not including benefits.

The diversion deputy would oversee people who have been ordered by the court to wear electronic monitoring or who have entered into Maine pre-trial contracts or are on deferred dispositions. That amounts to about 158 people at a time. The deputy would supervise these people to avoid them ending up in jail, for instance by referring them to case workers to find housing. Sheriff Patrick Polky said earlier this year that the cost to keep someone out of jail is much less than if the county had to incarcerate them.

The sheriff’s patrol budget was approved at $3.1 million, an increase of about $300,000.

The communications budget was approved at $1.5 million, an increase of $100,000.

The airport budget was approved at nearly $1.2 million, about a $250,000 increase. The budget is fully funded by non-property tax revenues, such as fees and rent, to users of the airport.

The courthouse and public safety buildings budget were approved at $637,000, an increase of $40,000.

The administration and information technology budget was approved at $776,000, an increase of about $100,000. The commissioners pay is proposed to remain at $9,200 for each member. The annual additional stipend for the commission chair would remain at $800.

The department calls for adding a human resources manager for $62,000, not including benefits.

The district attorney budget was approved at $602,000, up $44,000. The salaries of the prosecutors are not included in the county, but instead paid through the Attorney General’s budget at the state level. The finance budget was approved at $366,000, up $34,000. The probate budget was approve at $313,000, up $18,000. The deeds budget was approved at $254,000, up $13,000. Deeds is projecting it will bring in $543,000 in revenues. The emergency management agency budget was approved at $282,000, up $27,000.

Camden would pay the largest share of the county budget. The cost of county government is divided up largely on property valuations with the more valued towns paying a larger share. Camden’s payments — including public safety dispatch fees — are projected to be $1,943,000, an increase of $225,000.

Rockport would pay $1,413,000, an increase of $203,000. Rockland would pay $1,290,000, an increase of $144,000. St. George would pay $1,232,000, an increase of $206,000. Vinalhaven would pay $652,000, an increase of $41,000. Warren would pay $626,000 an increase of $114,000. Thomaston would pay $581,000, an increase of $87,000. Owls Head would pay $540,000, an increase of $51,000. North Haven would pay $447,000, an increase of $66,000. Cushing will pay $458,000, an increase of $62,000. South Thomaston would pay $415,000, an increase of $51,000. Union would pay $429,000, an increase of $72,000. Friendship would pay $373,000, an increase of $56,000. Hope would pay $343,000, an increase of $26,000. Washington would pay $260,000, an increase of $29,000. Appleton would pay $225,000, an increase of $32,000. Isle au Haut would pay $77,000, a decrease of $9,000. Matinicus would pay $40,000, an increase of $1,000 from a year ago.

Knox County Commission Chair Dorothy Meriwether, left, and Commissioner Sharyn Pohlman, center, and Budget Committee Chair Roger Peabody of Warren at the Thursday night, Dec. 15 budget meeting. Photo by Stephen Betts