— By . MURPHY

Staff Writer

York County is considering an $18.1 million budget that would cut spending and still require a tax increase of more than 6 percent for the county’s towns and cities.

”It’s a painful budget,” said County Manager Richard Brown. ”The county government is shrinking every year.”

The tight budget would follow a fiscal year in which 24 county employees were laid off in September because of a $1.3 million budget shortfall.

The county budgeted revenue from housing inmates from other counties for its general operations, but a new state law requires that all such revenue be used for jail operations. That meant York County had to scramble to cut spending to avoid a deficit.

Now, a sharp drop in fees for recording real estate transfers is causing problems.

John Sylvester, an Alfred selectman and chairman of the county’s budget committee, said that recording deeds used to bring in about $1.5 million a year. In the past couple of years, however, that revenue has fallen to about $500,000 a year because of the housing market’s slowdown.

Sylvester said that decline, along with the new law on jail revenue, means that taxpayers must dig deeper to pay for York County government.

”Five years ago, the cities and towns paid about 67 percent of the cost of the county budget, and this (budget) will put it over 80 percent,” he said.

County commissioners sent the budget committee a proposal that would have cut spending by about 1.25 percent, Sylvester said, and increased the tax on cities and towns by about 10 percent.

The budget committee cut deeper, reducing the budgets for all departments by 5 percent and eliminating a $300,000 cushion that was intended to help rebuild account balances, he said.

That produced a 4 percent reduction in the budget and a 6.2 percent increase in the tax levy. Even with the belt-tightening, the committee would have to approve a waiver to get past a state-mandated limit on the county’s tax increase of about 3.3 percent, Sylvester said.

County commissioners would validate the waiver as part of their budget review.

Once the committee holds a public hearing and vote on the budget next week, the budget will go back to the commissioners, who can either approve the budget and the waiver, change the budget and send it back to the committee or approve the budget but not the tax waiver, which would require the committee to make changes to get the tax levy within the state limit.

”We’ve got some very serious situations we have to deal with,” Sylvester said. ”We’re looking at major tax increases (in coming years) just to hold the infrastructure together.”

The proposed budget is lower than what was approved last year but above the spending level set after the county laid off employees in September. The county will be able to hire back about 15 or 16 of the laid-off employees, Brown said, if the budget set by the committee is approved by commissioners.

Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:

[email protected]