PARIS — An auditor advised the Oxford County commissioners to determine the exact amount of a jail deficit Tuesday before addressing how it might be paid.

Ron Smith estimated that the deficit will be at least $50,000 as of June 30, the end of the 2009 fiscal year. He said the goal is to resolve the deficit without using undesignated funds.

“The first thing you’ve got to do is find out where you stand,” Smith said.

He said there was a $31,000 deficit in the budget on Dec. 31. The Oxford County Jail changed its mission to a 72-hour holding facility on July 1, a switch that eliminated six positions from the jail staff. Three positions had been frozen and some employees secured jobs elsewhere prior to the change, but Smith estimated that the county had to pay out $20,000 in benefits.

The deficit may be paid through other funds, including the jail surcharge and corrections accounts. Smith said $68,000 was available in those accounts, though an audit is needed to see if any of the funds have been put toward other uses.

Smith said the state recently recommended that any surplus funds be held for dedication to reserves under the new jail system. He said such funds could be used to offset the deficit, but county reserves might also be used if the state is unable to cover the amount.

In addition, the state has requested $250,015 from Oxford County to go toward the jail account. Assistant county administrator Judy Haas said a $1,228,757 cap was established for the Oxford County Jail, and a $978,742 budget was projected for the 2010 fiscal year after the switch to a 72-hour-holding facility.

Commissioner Steve Merrill said that the corrections working group will determine a payment schedule for the counties that the Department of Corrections has requested money from. The schedule has not been established yet, and commissioners have tabled the issue until no later than Nov. 3.

The change of the Oxford County Jail to a 72-hour-holding facility occurred after the state determined that 80 percent of inmates were released within the first three days of arrest. If an inmate is at the jail for longer than three days or sentenced, he or she is transferred to either the Androscoggin or Cumberland county jails.

Capt. Ernest Martin, the jail administrator, said Tuesday that the jail population is currently averaging more than the four to five inmates per day projected by the state. He said the higher population is also leading to increased food costs, as the jail currently contracts with Market Square Restaurant in Paris and averages $6 per meal.

“It’s been a very challenging past three weeks,” Martin said. “A lot of it has been adjusting.”

Sheriff Wayne Gallant said costs will fluctuate with the population, but also noted how transportation costs appear to be increasing. Gallant said inmates make their initial court appearances at the South Paris District Court when possible, but that the district court clerk has asked that inmates be taken to the district courts in Rumford or Farmington, rather than Lewiston, when the Paris court is unavailable.

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