AUGUSTA — Kennebec County’s budget committee delayed passage of its $11.1 million budget for 2016 on Thursday amid political uncertainty around the state’s jail funding.

Robert Devlin, the county administrator, said the move is unprecedented in his 13-year tenure, but he recommended it because the Legislature hasn’t acted on a bill that would dissolve the foundering Maine Board of Corrections and return control of the state’s 14 full-service jails to the counties.

Kennebec County opposes the bill from Sen. Paul Davis, R-Sangerville, that’s supported by Somerset County and the Maine Sheriffs’ Association, saying it could raise county taxes by up to 30 percent by eventually phasing out $12 million in initial statewide funding to supplement jail costs.

If that doesn’t happen, Kennebec County’s budget is unremarkable. It calls for $11.1 million in spending, up from $10.7 million last year; and it would increase taxes by 1.1 percent, driven largely by a 9 percent increase in health insurance. But for now, Devlin said the committee will wait to approve the budget until the Legislature acts on the jails.

“It’s frustrating because we have a very good budget, a very tight budget,” Devlin said.

The current state jail system was created in 2008, but it’s in crisis: Jails cost $82.5 million to run, but the state is funding the system at only $80 million, and Gov. Paul LePage has refused to fill vacancies on the corrections board, rendering it unable to take official actions. The governor has criticized the current model, saying jails should be under the full control of either the state or counties.


This has contributed to overcrowding at the Augusta jail, which averaged 173 inmates daily with an approved capacity of 147 in 2014. Violence also rose, with 98 inmate-on-inmate assaults and 10 inmate-on-staff assaults, compared with just 39 and six in 2013.

Davis’ bill still is being considered by the Legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee. Sen. Kimberley Rosen, R-Bucksport, the panel’s co-chairwoman, said legislators “don’t want the burden to go on the taxpayer” at the county level. She said the committee is expected to finalize its version of the bill next week and pass it on to the budget-writing committee for input.

“We just can’t wait any longer, and the jails can’t wait any longer,” she said.

Michael Shepherd — 370-7652

Twitter: @mikeshepherdme

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