AUGUSTA — Gov. Paul LePage wants Maine’s jails to get the money they need.
In a one-page letter to legislative leaders and members of the Appropriations Committee, the governor expressed his wish that money be set aside to keep all 15 county jails operating.
“The financial issues facing the Board of Corrections have been communicated to me in the starkest terms,” LePage wrote in the letter dated Jan. 20. “Without more money, county jails will be forced to close their doors in either the third or fourth quarter. I wish to clearly place you on notice that this Legislature needs to appraise funds in order to keep our jails operating at the level the people of Maine expect.”
The letter came just nine days after Corrections Commissioner Joseph Ponte called for a full takeover of the county jails by the state.
Ponte described the jail system as “on the verge of collapsing.”
Meanwhile, legislators are working on a fix to the system that will likely keep the jails in county hands.
In his letter, LePage said he wasn’t backing either plan.
“It is for you to determine which option should be adopted into law,” he said.
On Monday, sheriffs said they found the letter welcome but puzzling.
“It just seems like a lot of mixed signals,” Androscoggin County Sheriff Guy Desjardins said. “I was surprised.”
In part, the surprise comes from Ponte’s letter. It also comes from LePage’s repeated calls for no new legislative spending, Desjardins said.
“Where is he going to get the money?” he asked.
The state Board of Corrections has asked the Appropriations Committee for $2.8 million to get through the current fiscal year.
In Androscoggin County, the share would likely be about $290,000. Without it, the jail will run out of money weeks before the current fiscal year ends on June 30, Desjardins said.
Kennebec County Sheriff Randall Liberty, who serves as president of the Maine Sheriffs Association, praised LePage for backing the jails’ request for additional money.
“(LePage) sees the gravity of the situation,” Liberty said. “He understands the state has a statutory and moral obligation for public safety.”