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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Androscoggin County and all seven County Commissioners answered today the suit filed against them by twelve municipalities, seeking a complete dismissal of all claims and asking for sanctions against the municipalities and their lawyer for filing suit.
In a 20-page Motion to Dismiss, supported by more than a dozen public records, the County and the Commissioners deny that they did anything improper in setting Commission salaries and adopting a county budget last year.
“This lawsuit is totally political and baseless”, said Commission Chair Beth Bell. “It has been orchestrated by Lewiston City Administrator Ed Barrett, who has sold a bill of goods to the other towns. It is the biggest waste of taxpayer money I have ever seen,” commented Bell.
In November of 2014, after receiving a written legal opinion from the County’s attorney that the County Charter gave the Commissioners, not the County Budget Committee, final authority over Commissioner salaries and benefits and the County budget, the Commissioners reduced their salaries by several thousand dollars and reduced their health insurance benefits from full family coverage to individual coverage. They then enacted a final budget.
But the Commissioners’ salaries were $2,000 per year greater than that recommended by the Budget Committee, fueling a debate over who had final Charter authority over salaries and the budget itself.
In July, twelve towns and the County filed suit, asking that the Court declare that the Commissioners had acted illegally in setting their own salaries and in adopting a budget, even asking that the Commissioners forfeit their salaries and benefits.
“It is ironic in the extreme,” Bell stated, “to be sued by the Cities of Lewiston and Auburn for setting our own salaries, which they say is a conflict of interest, when both the Lewiston and Auburn City Councils set their own salaries under their Charters.
This fight over salaries amounts to a dispute over $2,000 per year for seven Commissioners and a $500.00 per year compensation for the Chair, a total of $14,500, on a County budget of over ten million dollars. Don’t the taxpayers of Lewiston and Auburn have better things to do with their money than spend tens of thousands of dollars on lawyers fighting about a fraction of that cost?
We didn’t ask for this fight, but the Commissioners did nothing illegal or improper and we intend to vigorously defend the County and the Commissioners from these claims and seek sanctions against those who brought them. Enough is enough,” Bell said.