An emergency spending plan to cover major deficits at some of Maine’s county jails won unanimous support from the Legislature’s budget-writing committee Friday morning and appears to have the support of the governor’s office.

The progress led Cumberland County Sheriff Kevin Joyce to put on hold plans to close part of his jail and return inmates from other counties to their jails of origin.

The Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee unanimously approved a $2.48 million funding measure designed to bail out the jails running deficits – those in Cumberland, York, Penobscot, Aroostook and Androscoggin counties.

The temporary measure still needs approval from the full Legislature and Gov. Paul LePage. While the governor’s office has declined to comment on the emergency funding, a press release from the House Republican Office said LePage collaborated in development of the plan, along with Rep. Tom Winsor, R-Norway, a committee member, and the committee’s Senate chairman, Jim Hamper, R-Oxford.

Some lawmakers expressed concern that the funding mechanism would give authority to a special appointee of the governor to allocate the money, rather than the State Board of Corrections. The board cannot authorize funding because it doesn’t have a quorum. The governor, who has described the board as inefficient and unaccountable, has declined to nominate members to the board, thereby rendering it powerless.

Instead, the money will be allocated by Corrections Commissioner Joseph Fitzpatrick, according to a statement from the House Republican Office. The money should be available in the coming weeks, the statement said.

The funding, if approved, will give the five jails that are running deficits enough to run through the end of the fiscal year on June 30. However, the future governance of the jails is still in question.

“It’s a temporary fix,” said Rep. John Martin, D-Eagle Lake. “It is not going to fix the larger issue, … but it is a mechanism to get the money to the jails so they can function.”

According to information provided to the Legislature by the State Board of Corrections, Cumberland County needs $596,000 to continue operations. Aroostook County needs $782,000; Penobscot, $563,000; York, $396,000; and Androscoggin, $151,000.

Joyce sent a letter to at least two other sheriffs Friday advising them that the Cumberland County Jail would continue to hold other counties’ inmates after Joyce’s deadline of Feb. 23 because the funding appeared certain. The funding infusion presumably puts on hold other immediate cost-cutting measures Joyce had proposed, including shutting down the county’s pre-release center and releasing some low-risk, nonviolent offenders.

“This allows us to continue to work in partnership, at full capacity, fulfilling our common goal of keeping this state and its counties safe,” Joyce said in his letter to Oxford County Sheriff Wayne Gallant.

Staff Writer Steve Mistler contributed to this report.

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

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