SKOWHEGAN — Somerset County commissioners approved a budget for the coming year Wednesday that is close to $1 million higher than the current year.

The $7,065,848 spending package is roughly 16 percent higher, in part because of the loss of $500,000 in annual payments received for housing federal inmates at the county jail.

The budget increase is just over $951,000.

The spending package now goes to the Somerset County Budget Committee for consideration and possible changes.

“We don’t have the half-a-million to reduce the budget because of the lack of federal boarding money,” Commissioner Lloyd Trafton of West Forks said. “It isn’t because of spending; it’s because of a lack of income. The problem with that budget right there, the biggest part of it is because of debt at the jail and the way the state has handled it.”

The state Board of Corrections said in 2014 that all of the federal revenue at the Somerset County Jail must be turned over to the state to offset the state’s contribution to correctional services and not be used to help pay off the debt from the county jail construction. A Superior Court judge overruled that decision, and the matter is being appealed by the board to the Maine Supreme Court.

County Administrator Dawn DiBlasi echoed Trafton’s comments, saying the proposed budget is up because the county lost the federal boarding money. The money was used to give municipalities tax relief by offsetting debt payments on the jail.

“Now we don’t have the tax relief to give, so it’s almost like a double whammy,” DiBlasi said.

County commissioners met with all of the county department heads on Tuesday to hear what their spending proposals are for 2015-16 fiscal year. Commissioners sliced about $22,000 from those requests to arrive at the budget adopted Wednesday.

The spending package does not reflect changes in the valuation for taxes of the paper mills in Skowhegan and Madison, commissioners said. Total taxes in Somerset County are set using the towns’ share of the county tax, the school budget and municipal spending approved at annual town meetings.

The Somerset County Budget Committee can make its own changes to the commissioners’ budget in the coming weeks and send it back to the commissioners for approval. If the budget panel cannot muster a two-thirds majority — seven votes of the 10-member committee — to put its proposal into effect for the new fiscal year, the commissioners’ budget takes effect on July 1.

The Budget Committee last year failed to muster the necessary two-thirds vote to override county commissioners, finalizing the county budget at $6,114,763.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]

Twitter: @Doug_Harlow

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