County Commissioner Donald Berry is proud of what he and his fellow commissioners and county staff have accomplished during his tenure, often doing more with less money, and he hopes to continue his work for another four years. He faces a challenge from Betty Johnson  of Lincolnville.

On the three-member County Commission, Berry represents District 1, an area that includes Belfast, Belmont, Islesboro, Lincolnville, Northport and Waldo. The retired high school chemistry teacher has served one four-year term on the commission and has been chairman for the last two years.

Looking back to his campaign in 2006, Berry said his platform included getting control of tax growth and dealing with the old jail and the  aging sheriff’s office. “And we’ve now accomplished both these things,” he said. “Especially getting the taxes reduced for people. That’s so important. There is no money in Waldo County, and we all know that.”

Despite rising insurance costs and new contracts with several county employee bargaining units, recent county budgets have shown only a fraction of the increases of past years when Berry said a budget might jump by as much as 30 percent in a single year — the commissioners’ 2011 preliminary budget came in 1.06 percent above the current year’s budget.

But the small increases belie the ambitions of the commission. Berry and company recently approved a new 10,750-square-foot building that will house the Sheriff’s Office and Emergency Management Agency. The facility, Berry was proud to say, will be paid for entirely through federal grants and existing county reserve accounts, which is to say, residents won’t be seeing a bill for it in the coming years.

The former Waldo County Jail was converted to a re-entry center last year as part of a statewide corrections consolidation. And the county also saw improvements to its emergency communications with the addition of a new transmission tower in Knox, purchased with federal grant money.

In these cases and others, Berry was quick to give credit to his fellow officials, pointing out the half-million dollars in grant money pulled in by EMA Director Dale Rowley last year, the successful garden program started by Berry’s fellow commissioner William Shorey, and Sheriff Scott Story’s role in the designation of the former jail as a re-entry center.

Waldo County became its own health insurer in 2007, a measure that Berry said would continue to save money over bargaining with private insurers.

The county commissioners also recently recouped $100,000 in renovation costs from the state — something Berry credited to the persistence of Commissioner Amy Fowler. “To be able to come in here and say we’ve recovered $100,000 from the state for the conversion of this re-entry center, that was really positive,” he said.

One of the more difficult things has been getting the word out, and Berry claimed some credit for bringing more attention to the work of the county during his time on the commission. And several controversies, including a lawsuit by a private company seeking access to the entire electronic contents of the county’s registry of deeds, and a flap over the location of the proposed Sheriff’s Office and EMA building have put the county in the spotlight, but a lot of people still don’t know what the county government does, he said.

“You know when you need probate to do wills and guardianships and other things. You know [the Registry of] Deeds exists when you need deeds work done. You know the Sheriff’s Office exists when you need the Sheriff,” he said, adding that local 911 calls are handled by the Waldo County Regional Communications Center in Belfast.

On the dispute with neighbors of the proposed Sheriff’s Office and EMA building, Berry dismissed the accusation by some neighbors that the county didn’t do enough to include the neighborhood in the process. “We are charged with an obligation to manage county property,” he said. “We did hold meetings. We did invite those individuals. We took into consideration some of the suggestions they had. We rejected others that were not within the budget of the building.”

Looking ahead, Berry said the county had started conversations with the Maine state judicial branch about expanding the District Court building that currently houses both the court and several county offices. He said the plan was to approach the Legislature with a plan in 2013.

The relationship between the state courts and the county has been strained at times, and Berry took credit for bringing a more positive tone to the conversation.

“The leadership of everything that’s occurring in this county is very important, and I’d like to continue that leadership,” he said. “I think it’s a very important piece.”