PARIS — Returning control of the Oxford County Jail to the county may run taxpayers an additional $1.3 million annually, though the impact will depend on how lawmakers respond to the looming system crisis, officials from the Sheriff’s Office said Tuesday. 

Oxford County officials have begun early forecasts on the financial impact of transitioning the jail from state to county hands, including transitioning the temporary holding facility into a full-time jail.

Sheriff Wayne Gallant told county commissioners Tuesday that recent signs from the governor’s office indicate interest in returning the operation and funding of county jails to county governments.

“I can’t imagine the state taking over,” Gallant said. “You’re running into some bargaining unit issues and costs for ownership of the building.” 

The projections include considerable “what-ifs” which remain unresolved, as the state’s jail system currently lacks a means to deal with logistical issues of transportation and overcrowding, a $2.5 million shortfall and no means of continuing payments to county jails.

“If they fund it, it’s not a fix all — a band-aid to get us through,” he said. 

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Oxford County Jail was downgraded to a 72-hour holding facility through a statewide jail consolidation plan in 2009, requiring it to transport prisoners held more than 72 hours to and from larger facilities. The move also capped the amount county property owners pay to fund jail operations at 2008 levels.

According to Board of Corrections financial reports, the jail is projected to cost $1.34 million in fiscal year 2015, which ends June 30.  

The additional $1.3 million needed, an early projection, is a measure of the fiscal impact on what would amount to a major shift in the correction officials’ mission, including hiring more staff and repurposing rooms so visitors can meet with inmates, according to Jail Administrator Capt. Ed Quinn. 

Estimating the costs of a return to a full-time facility is in its infancy, Quinn said. The bulk of expenses will come from employee wages and providing health insurance and food for inmates. The 47-bed facility is in “good shape” and likely wouldn’t require major repairs beyond that, he said.

Quinn said he expects to discuss which vendors to use with Kennebec County Jail officials in the coming months. 

With one “small” exception, the state does not contribute any funding toward the jail, according to County Administrator Scott Cole. 

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As the county has yet to complete a comprehensive budget model outlining the various financial scenarios, Cole said it was “premature” to discuss specific numbers. 

“The local tax impact of returning Oxford County Jail to full-service status is yet unknown,” Cole said.

Oxford is just one of three counties to make payments into the Board of Corrections investment account, whose funds are dispersed to the other county jails. This year, those payments tallied $187,000.

The future of the state’s jail system remains uncertain, and the funding the counties’ jails has become a political crisis after the resignation of two members of the Board of Corrections. It’s uncertain how the state will continue payments to keep the jails open, because a handful are expected to run out of money in the spring. 

“(The system) is created to fail,” Quinn said. 

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