AUBURN – County Commissioner Randall Greenwood worries that the state pays too few bills to be trusted to take on another.

“We’re going to be getting less and paying more,” said Greenwood, chairman of the Androscoggin County Commission. “Look at how much they owe hospitals.”

On Wednesday, commissioners read a state proposal to send Oxford County inmates to the Androscoggin County Jail. The two-page draft document sets a fee of $14.54 – per inmate, per night – that would be paid by the state to the Auburn jail.

Traditionally, the cost of boarding an inmate from another county has begun at about $70 a night and has risen to more than $100.

In theory, state money would fill the gap between the jail budget and the added expense of housing more inmates.

Under the new plan, the Oxford County Jail would transform into a 72-hour holding facility. The rest of its inmates would be sent to the Auburn jail.

That jail would change, too. The plan would remake the Androscoggin County Jail into a pre-trial facility. Convicted criminals would be sent to the Cumberland County Jail at a yet-to-be-disclosed cost.

The changes would take effect July 1.

Greenwood and his fellow commissioners, Jonathan LaBonte and Elaine Makas, said they were concerned about the details of the plan.

Makas worried that the shapers of the plan, the Maine Department of Corrections and the new Board of Corrections, lack practical understanding of how the jail works.

The former Maine legislator compared the jail initiative to school consolidation. Too few of the people creating the consolidation plan had worked for school systems, she said.

“You had a used-car salesman working on school consolidation,” Makas said.

The restructuring of Maine’s jails has been in the works for more than a year. In 2007, an initiative headed by Gov. John Baldacci called for the state to take over all 15 county jails and close several, including the Oxford County Jail in Paris.

Androscoggin County was earmarked as a pre-trial facility. In the months that followed, the state gave up on the plan.

Instead, the state created a Board of Corrections in May 2008. It was charged with reshaping the 15 county jails into a unified system.

With new pressure to reduce budgets, the board and the state Department of Corrections went back to the old plan, at least in part.

The are no plans to close any of Maine’s jails.

Sheriff Guy Desjardins said the move to change the mission of the Androscoggin jail will have to be watched carefully. Even if the state keeps its promise to fund the jails, there could be unforeseen costs.

“Until we jump on the horse and ride it, we’re not going to know,” he said.

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