In this January 19, 2021, file photo from January 2021, Piscataquis County Commissioners Wayne Erkkinen, left, and Andrew Torbett appear during a commissioners meeting. Credit: David Marino Jr. / BDN

DOVER-FOXCROFT, Maine — Piscataquis County’s commissioners plan to slash 10 percent of grants for all nonprofit organizations, including its economic development group and regional food center, to lessen the burden on taxpayers, they said Thursday morning.

The unanimous vote came three days after a public hearing, where the 2023 county budget and 2023-24 unorganized territory budget — put together by the Budget Advisory Committee, whose nine members commissioners appoint — were unveiled.

Across Maine, counties are grappling with climbing operational costs, which makes balancing a budget more challenging. Commissioners’ decision Thursday means Piscataquis County’s chamber of commerce, regional food center, soil and water conservation district, a rape response program and other organizations will have less funding to work with next year, which could potentially affect residents and services.

Commissioners also agreed to put a $100,000 cap on grants for the organizations and programs, which affects only the Piscataquis County Economic Development Council that was supposed to receive $115,500 and will now get $100,000.

“There’s been a lot of complaints about rising taxes, and if we went with our actual budget this year, the taxes would really climb,” Commissioner Wayne Erkkinen said.

It will cost $5,980,906 to run county operations next year, a nearly 10 percent increase, according to the Budget Advisory Committee’s proposal. The unorganized territory budget is separate. Commissioners said Monday they would halt hires for new positions.

The budget committee reduced the budget from an original $6,330,000. Commissioner Andrew Torbett wanted to see even more cuts to keep the tax rate around 1 mill, he said, but this is the solution commissioners found.

The decision affects a number of county-level programs and several outside of Piscataquis, including the Bangor Area Homeless Shelter and Eastern Maine Development Corp., according to those listed in the budget. Most of them rely on other grants and donations to operate.

For example, Destination Moosehead Lake’s grant would go from $5,000 to $4,500, and University of Maine Cooperative Extension in Piscataquis County would go from $27,450 to $24,705, County Manager Michael Williams said.

Commissioners said organizations listed in the unorganized territory budget would also lose 10 percent in funding.

“The operation of the county is why the budget’s going up,” said James White, chairman of the commissioners. “Grants are really not the primary reason we’re here. As a matter of fact, you’re hard pressed to find grants in our job description.”

Costs are rising across the board, he said, noting more money is being spent on fuel for law enforcement cruisers and heating fuel for the jail. The county will not cut into surplus to offset costs because it should be saved for emergencies, commissioners said.

The county only has just over 90 days of surplus, which is about the minimum that an auditor would recommend, Treasurer Johanna Turner said.

Some members of the Budget Advisory Committee, after voting on budgets, said they regretted the decision because they were short a member, White said.

“It’s something we hate to do,” said Erkkinen, a commissioner. “We don’t want to cut anybody, but it’s just too hard a year on the citizens of Piscataquis County.”

Commissioners are next scheduled to meet at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday. The budget amendments will come before the Budget Advisory Committee at 6 p.m. Dec. 8. White will not be present because he is stepping down Dec. 7 to serve as a state representative.