AUGUSTA — Kennebec County passed an annual budget Thursday requiring $167,000 more in funding for its overcrowded jail because of a bill passed by the Legislature.

Commissioners unanimously backed a $11.3 million budget for the next year that Kennebec County Administrator Robert Devlin said would raise county taxes by an average of 3 percent. That’s more than the county’s initial proposal, which would have increased taxes by slightly more than 1 percent.

The eight-member county budget committee adopted it, voting 7-0 with one member absent, according to Terry York, assistant county administrator.

The newly adopted county budget requires a $5,755,993 appropriation to support the jail. That is passed on to the county’s municipalities, which collect that money in the form of property taxes.

Devlin said the main culprit in that increase is L.D. 186, a jail reform bill that the Legislature passed but isn’t law yet because it is awaiting action from Gov. Paul LePage, who has until Saturday to sign or veto the bill. It would dismantle Maine’s consolidated jail system created in 2008, return control to the counties and provide $13 million in state funding for jails.

But statewide, counties need $17 million to run the jails, said Rosemary Kulow, executive director of the Maine County Commissioners Association. The bill would allow some counties to increase the share of taxes going to jails by 3 percent to get additional funding, which Kennebec County is doing, but it’s not enough to cover the gap.


For example, Devlin said with that additional money, the Augusta jail probably will be funded at less than $6.9 million, which would be $200,000 less than he said the jail needs to be at full staffing.

“It’s going to be almost impossible to survive,” Devlin said. “We’re going to need every dollar we can get to support our jails.”

The Augusta jail has struggled with overcrowding since 2014, when there were 98 inmate-on-inmate assaults and 10 inmate-on-staff assaults, compared with 39 and six in 2013. It’s a problem that has been blamed on an influx of inmates with mental health problems and a rising number of criminal court filings, even as those filings declined statewide.

The jail system also has been in political crisis since early this year, when LePage said he wouldn’t fill vacancies on the Maine Board of Corrections, which effectively halted the work of the group set up to oversee the consolidated system. L.D. 186 was intended to end that stalemate, but counties are divided over the bill’s merits.

The Maine Sheriffs’ Association and Somerset County backed the bill, but Kennebec County opposed it. Kulow said her organization is hoping to make the case for more jail funding in coming legislative sessions, but Devlin isn’t optimistic.

“My prediction is the state slowly ratchets back their funding for the jails and shifts it to the property tax,” he said.

Michael Shepherd — 370-7652

[email protected]

Twitter: @mikeshepherdme

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