FARMINGTON — Franklin County jail officials are once again seeking beds around the state for inmates, because Somerset County Jail stopped taking them last week because it's owed $280,000 by the state.
It is the second time in 12 months that the Madison jail stopped taking inmates from Franklin and other counties because the state owed it money. The last time was in May 2012 and it lasted until July 31 when the county and the state reached an agreement on payment.
In July 2009 county jails were taken over by the state, and the Farmington detention center was switched from a full-time jail to a 72-hour holding facility.
Franklin County officials have requested the jail be allowed to go back to full operating status, but as of Monday morning there had been no action on a bill at the Legislature to make that happen.
“We have got to find a place for these people,” Franklin County Sheriff Scott Nichols said. “We can keep them for three days.” After that, state law requires that they go to another facility, he said.
The Somerset County Jail will keep the 31 or so Franklin County inmates currently there, he said. That leaves Franklin County searching for open beds and traveling the state to bring inmates to those facilities. It means more transportation and overtime costs for the Farmington jail.
Franklin County taxpayers still raise about $1.6 million each year to operate the jail. In 2011 it cost about $1.1 million; the state got to keep the rest.
Somerset County Sheriff Barry DeLong said he stopped taking new inmates from counties March 26. He said the Madison jail was the only one that did not receive a quarterly payment to house inmates from the Maine Board of Corrections. The board manages the cost of corrections and determine correctional facility use and purpose, among its duties.
About $280,000 is owed for the past quarter, he said, to pay for housing inmates from other counties, and a new quarter has begun.
He said he has no plans to take boarders from Aroostook or Kennebec counties or any other county and have Somerset County taxpayers foot the bill.
The jail is paid to house federal inmates at the Somerset County Jail, plus the federal government pays for medical and transportation costs, he said.
DeLong said he plans to use the federal money to lower the tax rate for the residents of Somerset County and pay down the bond payment on the jail. The payment is $2.6 million a year for the state-of-the art facility, he said.
Somerset County commissioners voted in January to keep the federal money to pay for debt and operations of the jail and not share it with the state.
About 40 federal inmates are housed at the Somerset County Jail and the county receives about $90 a day for each, DeLong said. In addition, the federal government pays for medical expenses and transportation, he said.
DeLong said Somerset County and the other counties would be better off without the state Board of Corrections and go back to the counties running the jails like they did for more than 100 years before the state implemented jail reform.
Michael Tausek, executive director of the Board of Corrections, said the board voted to withhold the payment to Somerset County until he and legal counsel for the board and for Somerset County can review the legal aspects of Somerset County's resolution to use the federal money to pay down the bond for the new jail.
It doesn't mean the county will not get the money, he said.
Somerset County receives a certain amount of money from the state's investment fund on a quarterly basis, he said, as well as the money from the federal government to board federal inmates.