Manager: Town Is ‘Robbed’ by County

MOUNT DESERT — Taxpayers here aren’t getting their money’s worth from Hancock County government, Town Manager Durlin Lunt told about 65 members of the Summer Residents Association at their July 12 meeting in Northeast Harbor.

“We’re being robbed,” he said. “I don’t think Hancock County is being run properly.”

Lunt has been particularly troubled by news reports of alleged financial improprieties on the part of the county’s chief financial officer, Phil Roy, before he took the post in 2009.

“I don’t think (the county commissioners) have the right person handling the finances,” Lunt told the summer residents group. “I don’t think there’s any supervision. I think it’s a crime. I think people ought to call their county commissioners and tell them that.”

County Commissioner Fay Lawson, whose district includes the four Mount Desert Island towns, strongly defended the commissioners and Roy in a telephone interview Monday.

“We have an employee who is doing a fantastic job and saving us money,” she said. “In the three years he’s been here, we have had exemplary reports from our annual audits.”

In recent weeks, several current and former county officials, including Sheriff Bill Clark and Treasurer Janice Eldridge, have publicly criticized Roy. Lawson attributed their complaints to “personality conflicts.”

“There are some employees who don’t like the close watch he’s keeping on their departmental budgets, and there are a lot of bad feelings,” she said.

Lawson issued a challenge to those who think the county is being poorly managed and costing taxpayers too much money.

“Come to the [commissioners’] meetings and see how the county is run,” she said. “Come take a look at Phil Roy in action. If you have concerns, where are you?”

She said that, in the 10 years she has been a county commissioner, no one from Mount Desert has volunteered to serve on the county’s Budget Advisory Committee. The committee is actually more than advisory; by law, the commissioners cannot override a committee vote on budget items.

Each of the three county commissioners recruits people from the towns they represent to run for seats on the budget committee. Then elections are held to choose three committee members from each district. Two of the members must be local elected officials (typically selectmen or town councilors), and the third can be any member of the community.

“The other two commissioners have great luck [getting people to serve on the budget committee],” Lawson said. “But I cannot get my people to apply. I hold an election to elect three people, and I frequently end up with only two. The one that is usually lacking, she said, if from Mount Desert.

She said that, at various times over the past 10 years, the budget committee has had one member each from Bar Harbor, Southwest Harbor and Tremont.

“But we have not had anybody from Mount Desert even apply,” she said. “That’s how much interest they have shown in county government.”

No one from any of the MDI towns is currently on the budget committee.

The county budget covers the Sheriff’s Department, jail, Registry of Deeds, Registry of Probate, Emergency Management Agency, 911 call center and Hancock County-Bar Harbor Airport. The airport’s revenue each year exceeds its expenses, so no local tax money is used to support its operation.

This year’s county budget is just over $6.9 million, with $5.2 million of that coming from taxpayers in all 37 municipalities in the county. Each municipality’s assessment is based on its percentage of the county’s total property valuation. Because Mount Desert has, by far, the highest valuation, it pays the largest share — nearly 15 percent — of county taxes. The town’s tax bill from the county this year is $787,920.

Together, the four MDI towns will send just over $1.8 million to the county. That is 34.7 percent of the total amount of tax money the county will collect.

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Dick Broom

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Dick Broom covers the towns of Mount Desert and Southwest Harbor, Mount Desert Island High School and the school system board and superintendent's office. He enjoys hiking with his golden retriever and finding new places for her to swim. [email protected]