York County Jail is facing a potential $713,000 deficit by June 30. County commissioners and Sheriff Bill King are looking at ways to stem the flow of red ink.

York County Jail is facing a potential $713,000 deficit by June 30. County commissioners and Sheriff Bill King are looking at ways to stem the flow of red ink.

ALFRED — York County government could decide to allow vacant corrections positions to remain unfilled, ask prosecutors to speed up processing cases of inmates awaiting trial, hire more corrections staff to reduce overtime expenditures or seek other options as they look at ways to stem the tide of red ink at York County Jail.

In January, the deficit was projected to be about $695,000 by June 30, the end of the current fiscal year. By Wednesday, it had reached a projected $713,000.

And while county officials are hopeful the state will ante up supplemental funds that would help ease, but not solve, the situation this Legislative session, there’s no guarantee.

“I think we should consider not filling (the vacancies) right now,” suggested County Commissioner Michael Cote at a meeting earlier this week. But, Cote acknowledged to Sheriff Bill King that with inmate numbers climbing due in part to the number of opiate arrests across the county, “I realize it’s not easy.”

If supplemental state funding is forthcoming, York County’s share would be about $318,000, leaving a projected deficit of just under $400,000.

County Commissioner Richard Dutremble reminded his peers that during a grim financial period in 2006-07, when the county government as a whole was in a deficit position, employees agreed to delay some benefits.

“There was a lot of negotiation and a lot of give and take, it was not pretty, but we got it solved,” Dutremble said.

County Manager Greg Zinser suggested that the county could use some other funds as a one-time fix, though he wasn’t specific about the source. “No one here wants to be talking about staff reductions,” Zinser said. “We’ll look at other measures before staff reductions.”

Maine State Employees Association Local 1297 president Rachel Sherman pointed out that the clerical and custodial staff “took the hit” when a second financial crisis led to 24 county layoffs in 2009; several months later, about 15 positions were restored. Rural patrol also lost deputies in that round of layoffs.

Sherman said the government was continuing to spend money to renovate the Route 4 office building, despite the red ink down the road at the jail.

“I hope you figure something out,” she said. “Why do you keep building if you have a shortfall?”

Dutremble countered that the jail is a separate entity.

Zinser said if layoffs were to occur, they would take place at the jail or in rural patrol.

Jail consolidation was adopted by the Gov. John Baldacci administration in 2008. Counties were capped, by law, with how much they paid toward jail operations. In York County, the cap is $8.3 million, but the budget for the current year is $10 million.

Under the 2008 law, the state is supposed to pick up remaining costs over and above the caps, but counties have maintained it has never fully lived up to that standard.

The deficit is partly due to the increase in inmates being held at the jail. The average daily population is 256, up from 230 in 2015, King told county commissioners.

King said the jail’s food service is out for bid. He’s also looking at the mental health contract, and exploring a program that would allow some inmates to be released to their communities, with their movements monitored by an electronic bracelet or a similar device.

He noted that 78 percent of inmates are awaitng trial, many of whom will eventually end up in the state prison system. If the court process could move more speedily, those inmates would be in state, rather than county, custody, King said.

Dutremble wondered if it would be legal for the county to have a self-funded bail system, reasoning that some people who are arrested for low-level crimes are incarcerated simply because they can’t make bail.

King said he is exploring all options to reduce expenses, adding that staff overtime appears to be the deficit’s biggest driver.

“The deficit is a concern to me as much as it is the board,” King told commissioners.

“What do we do, where do we get the money?” asked Commissioner Gary Sinden.

”The only thing I can think of is staff, and how do you lay off when you have that many inmates,” King responded.

“Are you suggesting we lay it on the taxpayers?” Sinden asked.

Commissioners will discuss the issue again at their March 2 meeting.

— Senior Staff Writer Tammy Wells can be contacted at 324-4444 (local call in Sanford) or 282-1535, ext. 327 or [email protected]

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