AUGUSTA — Lawmakers have approved a commission to examine costs and funding associated with the unified county jail system.

The Legislative Council on Wednesday approved eight study commissions to meet during the summer and into the fall. One of those commissions will review costs of the county jail system and Board of Corrections.

“The primary goal of the commission is to examine the financial formulas that underpin the county corrections system,” said Rep. Mark Dion, D-Portland.

County sheriffs and administrators will select people to serve on the 13-member commission, which also will include representatives from the Legislature’s Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee.

Each of the 15 county jails operated independently until lawmakers created a consolidated system in 2008 and created a Board of Corrections to manage it. Since then, BOC members have floundered under the weight of muddled authority and a lack of state funding.

Dion said the commission will try to clarify how to fund the board and how those funds should be distributed to individual counties. By default, the process should clarify the BOC’s authority over individual jails.

“We all know budgets drive operations,” said Dion, a former Cumberland County sheriff. “Once we have agreements on payment, the criminal justice committee can look at lines of authority.”

The commission also will look at how counties treat additional revenue other than what is provided by state and county property taxes. That will encompass Somerset County, which has stopped accepting boarders — people arrested in one county who are being held in another county because of available jail space — as part of an ongoing dispute about how the county spends money it receives from housing federal inmates. Somerset County officials, who have filed suit against the state, think they can keep part of the money to help pay down debt on the new jail.

Board of Corrections officials say all revenue from any sources must be directed to the board for redistribution to jails throughout the system.

Dion said the commission will meet six times over the summer and fall before reporting back to the Joint Standing Committee on Criminal Justice and Public Safety.

“I think everybody has done their homework in terms of their respective counties,” Dion said. “The learning curve is not going to be steep. It’s a matter of collecting the facts in one place and making some decisions about how they want the budget process to work.”

Craig Crosby — 621-5642
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