FARMINGTON — Franklin County officials and jail staff say they will research how to make $100,000 in budget cuts required by a $100,000 increase in the state’s charge for housing county inmates held for more than three days.

The officials met Tuesday morning to discuss a response to the Maine Board of Corrections decision to cut the jail’s local operating budget by $100,000, and instead pay the money to the state as fees for boarding Franklin County inmates. Under the state unified jail system, the Franklin County jail is limited to use as a 72-hour holding center. The county must increase its payment for the cost of prisoners being held longer than three days from $630,000 to $730,000 in the upcoming year.

The increase is part of $1.2 million statewide in cuts and boarding fee increases to offset a shortfall in the state Board of Corrections budget for the 15 county jails.

A financial analysis by a newly hired board employee found that the state agency never reduced its projected revenues, and continued to count a one-time $1.2 million payment from the state in developing its budget. As a result, the county had $9.9 million in expenses but would only see $8.7 million in revenue.

As part of the financial analysis, state jail officials found Franklin County had a surplus of about $100,000 for the past several years and had a surplus on-hand of about $400,000.

Franklin County Sheriff Scott Nichols said this year the jail was expecting to end the year with about an $80,000 surplus but an unexpected expense, such as an inmate having an expensive medical emergency, could change that.

Nichols said Tuesday he feels the county is being asked pay an additional $100,000 to prop up the system, while the other jails reduced to 72-hour holding center status — Oxford and Waldo — were not asked to pay more to board out their inmates.

“We’re propping up the (Board of Corrections) on little old Franklin County’s shoulders,” he said.

Ryan Thornell, executive director of the board of corrections, said in a telephone interview Tuesday that several of the jails were not charged more to board out inmates because the correction board’s financial analysis found those counties couldn’t afford to pay more.

He said the state board looked at expenses, budgets and how well financially the jails were finishing the fiscal year.

“They (Oxford and Waldo) did not finish at a level warranting or able to have any increase in their invoice,” he said.

Nichols repeated to the board reassurances from Thornell that the increases are a one-time issue, and payments should return to normal in the next budget cycle, provided that the state fully funds the jail system.

But Franklin County Commissioner Fred Hardy said he does not believe that the payment increase is a one-time expense and said Franklin County jail shouldn’t be tied to state financial problems.

“I don’t trust the state of Maine for five minutes,” he said.

Hardy said the three county commissioners could withhold the county’s payment to the state. Franklin County pays two invoices a year to board out its inmates, with one coming up in the late fall.

“It is up to these three commissioners whether we pay that or not,” he said.

Nichols advised against not paying the bills, saying the new jail legislation passed in May gives the Board of Correction increased authority to punish jails for trying to operate outside of the system, by doing such things as withholding a payment with which they disagree.

Commissioner Gary McGrane said county officials should keep in mind the money they are billed for is not going to the Board of Corrections, but supports the entire unified system. He said the system is intended to serve the state’s jail structure as a whole.

“The system is not designed to make everybody happy,” he said.

McGrane said the county has about a $400,000 corrections surplus that can only be spent on the jail and can be used for the upcoming year.

“All you have to do is come to the commissioners,” he said.

Kaitlin Schroeder — 861-9252

[email protected]


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