State corrections remains flat funded
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BY MEGHAN V. MALLOY
Staff Writer
Kennebec Journal & Morning Sentinel 12/20/2009

AUGUSTA -- County jails and other correctional facilities could see more positions lost or unfilled next year if Gov. John Baldacci's latest budget plan, which flat funds jails at $3.5 million, is adopted for the next fiscal year.

"I don't know how many and where, but it would happen in (fiscal year 2011)," Kennebec County Administrator Robert Devlin said Friday. "If it looks like it's looming, we'll do what we did last time, which is not filling vacancies."

The $3.5 million from the state is to be distributed among Maine's 15 county jails. If a jail cannot operate on the flat funding and revenue it generates, it must appeal to the State Board of Corrections for more funding, which in turn must request it from state government.

The state is dealing with a $438 million budget gap, however, so additional money will likely be scarce. Yet more funding is exactly what county jails will ask for, starting after the first of the year.

"Including the $3.5 million, the counties are looking for $6.7 million, but I think we can certainly lower that number," said Devlin, who is the co-chairman for the state Board of Corrections Budget Committee.

In Kennebec County, cost increases come from health insurance, a labor contract and medical care. "Obviously, we can't just cut those," Devlin said.

Maine jail and county officials liken their budget problems to a Catch-22 scenario: Jails must hire a certain number of staffers to meet Department of Corrections requirements, but the money isn't there to do so, officials have said. And spending-limits caps prevent counties from raising taxes to meet the difference.

Still, Devlin said, county jail operators remain "optimistic" and consider the flat funding a "critical step" to operating the jails in the next fiscal year.

"The governor is supportive of this whole thing and wants it to work," he said.

Total cuts to state agencies, beyond education and human services, will total approximately $50 million, according to the proposed budget.

The Department of Corrections will see cuts in staffing and funding, including a reduction in boarding costs for state prisoners housed in county jails. The budget cites this reduction as the result of "improved prisoner movement and management within departmental facilities."

On Friday, Baldacci said prior to the creation of the State Board of Corrections, which oversees state jail operations, jail budgets grew about 9 percent every year, while state prison budgets grew at 5 percent.

"Under the unified system, county jail budgets grew by 1.8 percent in 2009 and half of one percent in 2010," Baldacci said.

Meghan V. Malloy -- 623-3811, ext. 431

mmalloy@centralmaine.com