February 14

Somerset County, state corrections spar over inmate payments

Sheriff Berry DeLong says if the county loses the lawsuit case, he might close down portions of the jail or shut it down completely.

By Doug Harlow dharlow@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

The county is not allowed to use outside money to pay off its debt, he said.

Somerset County filed the civil suit against the state Board of Corrections in May, seeking to reverse a unanimous vote by the board a month earlier to withhold the county’s third-quarter payment as part of the state’s consolidated jail system.

The result of the withheld payment is that county residents paid the bills to run the jail in January, February and March of last year without the promised reimbursement from the state.

It is a matter of cash flow, county officials said. It’s money that’s owed to the county and if the money owed can’t be collected, that puts an extra burden on taxpayers.

County officials, including DeLong, have said that Somerset County operated the jail for the third quarter, paid the salaries, bought the meals, paid the light bill, and if the state doesn’t pay that money, then the county gets left paying for it all.

Board of Corrections members said in April that the payment was withheld because Somerset County kept the revenue from the boarding of federal inmates as part of its own jail budget and debt service on jail construction. The board contends that the money instead should have been sent to it to help defray the costs of the statewide jail system.

Hodgins disagreed, saying there is no basis in Maine law for withholding the money. He said the money was agreed upon in the 2013 jail budget, which was approved by the state Board of Corrections.

The jail budget calls for the state to pay $1.12 million to Somerset County for jail operations in the form of quarterly payments of $280,442. The rest of the jail’s expenses, about $4.8 million, is raised by county taxpayers and from “other sources of revenue ... to offset the tax burden,” according to the civil suit.

One of those “other sources” of income is a contract with the U.S. Marshals Service for the boarding of federal pre-trial inmates.

The Board of Corrections insists that all of the federal revenue must be turned over to the state to be used to offset the state’s contribution to correctional services. The county receives about $475,000 per year for the boarding of federal inmates.

County commissioners voted 5-0 in January to take the $93 paid daily for each federal inmate and use $22 as the marginal cost of running the jail and $18 would go to a building capital reserve fund, and $53 will be used for debt service on the construction of the jail.

The county commissioners’ resolution in January is reasonable and equitable and consistent with state law, according to the county’s suit.

Alexander said he will take the information presented Friday under advisement and will issue a ruling soon.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367 dharlow@centralmaine.com Twitter: @Doug_Harlow

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