FARMINGTON — Franklin County commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to withhold the county’s first payment for 2013-14 to the Maine Board of Corrections until a state task force issues a report in December on the unified jail system.

They also authorized Sheriff Scott Nichols Sr. to look into an alternative plan to house the county’s inmates with Somerset County.

The move is a result of the state board’s decision on Sept. 17 to reject changing the Franklin County jail from a 72-hour holding facility to a full service jail as it was prior to July 2009. Several members on the board said it should be changed but they could not get by without the $630,576 the county sends to the state.

The county has not received a bill from the state for the first half of the payment that is due in November, Treasurer Mary Frank said Tuesday. In 2011, the county sent $315,288 to the state for the November payment and $315,288 for the April 2012 payment. The fund helps other jails in the state.

Franklin County taxpayers raise $1.6 million annually to fund the jail. About $1 million is needed to run the jail and the rest is sent to the state. The $1.6 million was a cap set by the Legislature in 2008 for the Franklin County jail when the unified county jail system was established in July 2009.

The Blue Ribbon Commission tasked with studying the Board of Corrections and the unified county corrections system is expected to issue a report on its findings no later than Dec. 4.

Nichols told commissioners that in spite of all the arguments, documents and recommendations to return Franklin County jail to full service, the state voted against it.

The state will be 75 percent short of funding for the third and fourth quarter of the current year to fund jails.

On Jan. 1, 2014, jails are going to have to lay off staff and let nonviolent inmates go because the funding won’t be there to support them, Nichols said.

Franklin County has already had to violate the 72-hour limit to hold inmates more than once due to not finding a jail that could take inmates in time.

“It’s a huge liability to violate this law,” he said.

Nichols said he has spoken to the chief deputy in Somerset County about taking Franklin County’s inmates, with Franklin County paying Somerset directly to house them.

This is not the ideal situation because he would rather have the Franklin County jail returned to full service, he said. But it is preferable to driving inmates around the state to open beds in other jails, he said.

“At the moment it is the second-best option,” he said.

When the unified jail system starts to collapse in January, he said, Franklin County will have a place to take its inmates.

Somerset County had taken Franklin County’s inmates until March, when it got locked into a legal battle with the Board of Corrections over Somerset County using the money it receives from the federal government to house federal inmates. It was used to pay down debt on its new jail. Somerset County declined to take new inmates from Franklin County in March, but did continue to house those who were already there.

Franklin County Commissioner Fred Hardy asked what the difference in cost would be if the county paid directly to Somerset.

He said the state pays about $22 per inmate a day while Somerset County has told other jails it would take inmates for more than $70 a day.

The county will have the $1.6 million, Nichols said. The jail’s average daily population is 30 inmates.

Jail Manager Doug Blauvelt said the county is paying $100,000-plus in transportation costs.

It is still not eliminating transportation costs going to Somerset County, Hardy said.

The transport officers are currently averaging more than 500 miles per week in transportation, Nichols said. This would be a shorter distance.

The county would still be running a 72-hour facility, he said.

“We need to do what is best for Franklin County,” he said. “No one is looking out for Franklin County in Augusta. That’s the sad truth. We have to start taking control of our own destiny.”

Commissioner Gary McGrane of Jay said the county has to comply with state law. He is hoping that once the state task force issues a report that some of the issues will be resolved.

Sen. Tom Saviello, R-Franklin, of Wilton said his understanding of what Nichols wants to do is an interim decision for the jail. It will also send a message to Augusta that the county is going to take care of its own.

“I think it is a good solution,” Saviello said.

Franklin County budget committee member Ryan Morgan of Farmington also supported Nichols’ plan.

This will tell the Board of Corrections to stop forgetting about Franklin County and stop wasting time and money driving prisoners around the state, he said.

“Those prisoners are still from Franklin County. They are still your constituents,” he said. He asked commissioners to stand behind the sheriff.

“It was my hope that this would collapse under its own weight,” Hardy said of the unified system and lack of funding for the third and fourth quarters.

“There is no other way than to collapse,” he said.

If the county makes the November payment, Nichols said, they would not have that money to work with.

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