The Legislature’s Criminal Justice Committee on Monday unanimously endorsed funding for the Board of Corrections to hire a fiscal analyst, essentially the only piece of the board’s $1.9 million supplemental budget request that made it to the Legislature after cuts by the administration.

Facing a major revenue shortfall, state departments have been urged to cut spending not add to it.

But the Board of Corrections, which helps fund county jails and pushes for coordination and efficiencies, already is facing a $560,000 shortfall for the remainder of the fiscal year — money that counties are counting on to balance their own budgets.

The board is separate from the Maine Department of Corrections, which runs and pays for the state prisons.

The state took over responsibility for county jails in 2009, in part to avoid having to build new state prisons to house a growing inmate population.

The arrangement called for counties to continue paying what they spent on corrections in fiscal year 2007-08, and the state would pick up any additional costs.

The consolidation also sought to rein in budget increases that were being tacked on to property taxes.

Col. Mark Westrum, chairman of the board and administrator of the Two Bridges Regional Jail, said the board did win support from the committee Tuesday for a fiscal analyst, someone who can work to coordinate the different county and jail budgets statewide.

“When we look at all 17 of these budgets, they’re all over the place,” he said. “Some of us operate in our individual silos still, and at end of the day, the money just isn’t there to do it that way.”

The budget includes $20,000 for the rest of this year, but the position would cost $92,000 in salary and benefits annually. The proposal still needs the support of the Appropriations Committee and the full Legislature.

The challenges the board faces this year are a taste of the difficulties anticipated for the next biennium. Counties have asked for an increase of $9 million over the two years, money Westrum said just isn’t there.

The combined county jail budgets right now total almost $80 million and there are about 1,600 inmates in the county system at any given time.

 

Staff Writer David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

dhench@pressherald.com