AUGUSTA — A state corrections group voted unanimously Thursday to recommend to the Board of Corrections that the Franklin County jail in Farmington reopen July 1 as a full-service jail. It is currently a 72-hour holding facility.

The Corrections Working Group recommendation also gives the county the money now being paid to house the inmates elsewhere.

The decision came after a frank discussion about money among the working group and Franklin County jail Manager Doug Blauvelt, Sheriff Scott Nichols Sr., Commissioner Fred Hardy of New Sharon and Board of Corrections Chairman Mark Westrum.

The next meeting of the Board of Corrections is set for 2 p.m. Tuesday, April 23, at the Marquardt Building in Augusta.

The Working Group was created as part of the jail consolidation law passed by the Legislature in 2008. It is an informal group consisting of representatives of the Department of Corrections, sheriffs and county commissioners, designed to help the Board of Corrections run the new, unified system.

Working Group member Ralph Nichols, Department of Corrections director of operations, on Thursday shared the findings of his April 9 inspection of the Franklin County Detention Center.

“The physical plant is in very good shape,” Nichols said, adding that there might be some minor things that have to be done.

“We could go as high as 44 (inmates) if you converted the indoor exercise room,“ he said. “Without that, it would hold 31, maximum.”

He reviewed a staffing matrix that would require 20 full-time-equivalent employees, including cooks and control-room operator. The jail also would need part-time staffing, he said. Policy and procedures are being updated. Some programs would have to be established, such as medical, mental health services and education.

Blauvelt told the group that on average, 30 to 35 of the county’s inmates are being boarded and about 35 are released on pretrial contracts.

Blauvelt and Sheriff Nichols submitted a plan to the Board of Corrections in January showing it could operate the jail in 2013-14 for $1.589 million. That is slightly less than the $1.6 million cap set in 2008 when the county jails merged into a unified system overseen by the board.

Blauvelt told the Working Group he budgeted $65,000 for medical providers, $40,000 for medicine and $90,000 for mental health and substance-abuse consultants.

“If we can get a medical and mental-health-service combination, that could save some money,” he said.

The jail was full service for decades until the state took over the county jail system on July 1, 2009.

County corrections staff have to find beds daily for inmates since Somerset County stopped boarding other counties’ inmates for the second time since May 2012. Somerset still has Franklin County inmates who were there prior to March 26.

Scott Adkins, financial director of Penobscot County, said Franklin County was sold a service that they are overpaying for and not getting.

“I don’t think reopening that jail is a benefit to (Franklin County taxpayers),” Adkins said. The costs will continue to increase over the years and will bypass the cap, he said.

Franklin County is not alone, he said.

“We are alone,” Sheriff Nichols said. It is the only jail that has to pay officers to travel around the state to find room for its inmates, he said. He got a call from a parent at 8 a.m. wanting to know the whereabouts of her son who was arrested over the weekend on a probation violation, he said.

Blauvelt said the county would be able to live within the cap and could create efficiencies. It has spent more than $120,000 to transport inmates, he said.

Ralph Nichols said that using the budget of $1.589 million submitted for 2013-14, the jail could lower the average inmate cost per day to $136 based on housing 31 inmates and to $98 a day if they house 44.

Currently, Franklin County’s average cost per day is $516, said Working Group member Scott Ferguson, DOC service center director and fiscal agent for the Board of Corrections.

“All of the information shows me they could reopen the jail,” Ralph Nichols said. He made the motion to recommend that to the Board of Corrections.

“They are going to have the capacity, more than they need and the system needs capacity,” he said.

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