Not content with a proposed one-percent increase, the Waldo County Budget Committee chopped away at the county budget during the final public hearing, Friday, Dec. 17, resolving to hold the line in the coming year.

The major cut of the evening, at nearly $77,000, came from a proposed addition to the county’s health insurance risk pool. The county is self-insured and, according to Commissioner William Shorey, has been building up the risk pool slowly based on a recommendation to have $1 million reserve to pay claims.

Shorey said the county currently has less than half that amount and he blasted the committee for putting the goal of a zero-increase budget over what he sees as a prudent investment in the county’s insurance program that would have added little to the overall budget.

“All we’d have to have is three major illnesses and our risk pool would be broke,” he said. “For a cent-and-a-half [the original, roughly 1.5-percent increase in the overall budget] we could have maintained that risk pool and been the wiser people for it.”

In other health insurance news, Shorey said county employees will be shouldering a larger share of their health insurance costs in the coming year. Those employees currently contribute 10 percent of the cost of their health insurance premiums, and that figure will rise to 12 percent in 2011.

Several other lines got minor adjustments. A supplemental wage for County Commissioner Donald Berry related to contract negotiations was cut in light of Berry’s loss in the November election. A request from the conservation group Time & Tide Resource Conservation & Development Area that had been halved at an earlier session was bumped back up to the full amount after a budget committee member testified to the good work of the group.

An additional $900 was granted to the Sheriff’s Office for vehicle repairs, gas and maintenance, and $2,125 was shaved off of the county’s projected $20,000 in interest fees for the annual tax anticipation note. That is because the county will be entering the coming year with enough of a surplus to put off borrowing money in advance of tax receipts until later in the spring.

Budget committee chairman Bill Sneed said a number of committee members had resolved to rein the budget in to the same level as 2010, but he expressed doubt that the county could hold the line again next year.

Sneed also remarked on what he called the “elephant in the room,” namely two outstanding employee union contracts. As of the hearing, the commissioners had yet to resolve negotiations with the bargaining units that represent county support staff and sheriff’s deputies. Between them, the unions include roughly 20 employees.

Both contracts are set to expire at the end of the year. Sneed said he wasn’t sure what the commissioners would do to cover any salary increases. During his ten years on the committee, this was the first time that the budget was completed with contracts still in negotiations, he said.

Shorey, who said he is slated to take over as head of the negotiating team when Berry leaves in January, would not comment on the status of the negotiations but said there are a number of ways the county could address any additional expenses to come out of the new contracts.

The committee denied a request by County Treasurer David Parkman to add an additional $100,000 to the county’s $1.2 million surplus, which he anticipated would shrink by two-thirds in the coming year, in large part due to money earmarked for a new Sheriff’s Office and Emergency Management Agency building.

The new 10,000-square-foot complex, to be built behind the re-entry center — formerly Waldo County Jail — is anticipated to cost $1.2 million, which includes a $500,000 draw from surplus, an additional half-million dollars from six county reserve accounts and money from a federal grant secured by Waldo County EMA in 2009.

None of that money will have been spent at the close of 2010, and because of a statutory technicality prohibits the county from keeping more than 20 percent of its budget in surplus, Parkman anticipated the county would be refunding around $300,000 to towns in the coming year, leaving the total county surplus hovering around $400,000.

Several members of the public spoke at the hearing with concerns about the new Sheriff’s and EMA building.

“It was off-topic for our purposes, but it was pleasant to have someone from the public there,” said Sneed, who noted that it has been several years since he has seen members of the general public at a budget hearing.