April 9, 2013

Franklin County jail may not pay state its fee

The sheriff says the state needs to address money problems the consolidated system is causing.

By KAITLIN SCHROEDER Morning Sentinel

FARMINGTON – Sheriff Scott Nichols Sr. said he plans to withhold the Franklin County jail's upcoming $314,000 semiannual payment to the state if it does not address complaints that the consolidated system is wasting county time and financial resources in an already-rough economy.

He is also helping to organize a protest on Wednesday of the county jail's diminished status as a 72-hour holding facility.

He said if withholding the payment doesn't work he is considering hiring personnel and making the jail a fully functioning facility without the state's permission. The payment from Franklin County is due to the Board of Corrections by April 15.

Nichols said he plans to hold the protest at 5 p.m. Wednesday in the parking lot outside the Farmington courthouse. The protest is being organized on a Facebook page administered by his wife and son.

The change in the jail's status from fully operational, passed five years ago by the Legislature, was supposed to lead to decreased operating costs and improved coordination among counties.

County officials, however, said the system costs the county more money now, mainly through additional transportation expenses. This year, Nichols said, the county has spent $125,000 more on transportation, because while Franklin County's jail is down the road from the courthouse, Franklin County inmates in Somerset County need to be driven 30 miles to their court appearances in Farmington.

The additional mileage alone is costly to the county, but the increased distance also means increased hours that officers need to be paid for transporting inmates.

The county is projected to spend $1.1 million in jail operational costs this year and make around $600,000 in two semiannual payments to the state. Nichols said taxpayers are paying the state to operate a facility that doesn't function as a proper jail, costs $125,000 in additional transportation spending and places inmates in jails that are unnecessarily far from their defense lawyers and families. Franklin County municipalities also saved about $50,000 per year in labor from inmates who were serving sentences within the county.

The sheriff said he decided to hold the demonstration after last week's county commissioners meeting, at which budget committee members expressed frustration with the jail's status. He said the purpose of the rally is to send a clear signal to Augusta that the system is broken and needs to be changed.

Ryan Morgan, Farmington Board of Selectman chairman, said that while he was not the organizer for the rally, he has been encouraging people to attend.

Morgan initiated the discussion of protesting the jail's status at the county commissioner meeting last week. He said the county should reinstate the jail to its full-service status without state permission and see whether anyone from Augusta tries to stop it.

He said after unsuccessfully trying to change the status of the jail through the Legislature and the Board of Corrections, the county should take matters into its own hands.

In the past few weeks, the dispute between the state and the jail system flared again in both Somerset and Franklin counties, with Somerset County refusing to take more inmates and a legislative committee unanimously voting down a bill to reinstate the Franklin County jail to its full status.

The Board of Corrections voted in March to withhold the Somerset County Jail's third-quarter payment of about $280,000 because the county is using revenue from the boarding of federal prisoners partly to pay down debt for construction of the new jail instead of sending the money to the state.

In response, Somerset County Sheriff Barry DeLong stopped accepting out-of-county inmates.

 

Kaitlin Schroeder can be contacted at 861-9252 or at:

kschroeder@mainetoday.com

 

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