May 7, 2013

Jails statewide face funding shortfall

Officials say layoffs are possible as the state Board of Corrections is short $700,000.

By Kaitlin Schroeder kschroeder@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA - County jail officials statewide are facing a $700,000 shortfall in funding from the state's Board of Corrections.

The board plans to meet Tuesday with county officials to divide $1.5 million in state money among the jails in order to fund their fourth-quarter payments partially.

The sheriffs and jail administrators say the only thing left in the budget to cut to make up for the missing funds is staff, which accounts for about three-fourths of the budget.

To make matters more complicated, Kennebec County Sheriff Randall Liberty said, it is difficult to save money through layoffs because the county jails self-insure for unemployment benefits and still need to pay 80 percent of an employee's wages if there is a layoff.

Liberty, president of the Maine Sheriffs Association and a Board of Corrections member, said the jails are not required to buy into Maine's unemployment insurance program. He said this is traditionally not a problem, because typically the jails don't need to lay off workers.

Jail officials from Androscoggin, Aroostook and York counties said at the last board meeting that they already have cut all they can from their budgets and the effect on jails would be crippling if they do not receive a full payment from the board.

Michael Tausek, Board of Corrections executive director, said the board is unable to raise more money to pay the jails, because money for quarterly payments comes from the state.

Counties are unable to raise more money for the jails through taxes, because under the consolidated jail system, tax rates were capped at the 2008 level. The state is responsible for paying the jails additional money needed in addition to the money raised from taxes, Tausek said.

Liberty said a group consisting of jail officials, staff members from the governor's office and Department of Corrections Commissioner Joseph Ponte met on Monday to discuss long-term solutions to the funding and other state jail problems. He said it was the first time the group met to discuss possible solutions, and discussions were only preliminary.

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

kschroeder@mainetoday.com


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