PARIS — County Administrator Scott Cole briefed the Oxford County commissioners Tuesday on jail funding discussions after having attended a recent statewide gathering of his peers from other Maine counties.

“I think the counties collectively were more focused on the state money,” Cole told the commissioners, “and they felt that any other efforts would undermine that state allocation.”

Cole said Oxford County disagreed with the state system of dividing jail funding among the counties.

“We were proven accurate, because we basically took a (legislative) bill all the way to approval and the state money was never in jeopardy at all,” he said. “The argument had been if we make a lot of noise about our tax cap, that would somehow create more confusion in the Legislature, but it didn’t have any effect at all.”

The Oxford County government has actively requested the state Legislature to amend a mandated cap on tax revenue so the county could raise the tax rate to pay the jail’s rising cost of operation.

“We were commenting last month and this month on pursuing tax cap changes, and it is clear what we did has opened up the door up to where we have a chance,” Cole said. “The legislators know that serious problems exist. The other piece now is there’s $2.4-2.5 million, (designated as) our state supplement to the budget right now … and they’re talking about how to carve that up.”


Cole said the county officers he spoke with wanted a simple formula to divide the money, and if the language of the statute addressed need, Oxford County would fare better in the distribution.

“Ed Quinn (Oxford county jail administrator) and I had a good meeting with Scott Ferguson (director of Maine’s Corrections Service Center) yesterday about our needs and our boarding fees, and the state recognized our boarding fees are legitimate,” Cole said. “I think we’ll do better than we would have done otherwise. They would give us $74,000, (but) we’re officially in need of $594,000. It’s all short-term gains. We have long-term problems, though.”

“So what (or) when is the next step?” Commissioner Stephen Merrill asked. “Do we have to wait until the first of the year?” 

“If we wait until the next legislative session, the jail issue will certainly be front and center on the docket,” Cole said. “The short-term next step is to see what Cumberland County comes up with as an offer for continued boarding.”

Cole said he spoke with the manager about the issue and asked if they were going to be able to hold the $50-per-day charge.

“He said he honestly didn’t know,” he said. “The Cumberland County commissioners were working on their jail budget now, and their strategy (for) the boarding fees. Their budget is based on some sort of a estimated inmate count. Our agreement runs out June 30 … We’re probably 10 percent of their inmate count.


“Our money’s good and they like the money,” Cole added. “It helps them run their budget with some certainty. There are a lot of issues here. It’s the least desirable public expenditure. Who want to pay for a jail? But you’ve got to have it.”

County Treasurer Marc Vanderwood asked if Cumberland County wanted its payment early in the summer, and Cole said the commissioners are late on the payment.

“But the agreement is quarterly, and on June 30, we are prepaying Cumberland County without a head count?” Vanderwood asked.

Cole said the agreement establishes a quarterly amount, but talks about reconciliation at the end. 

“I think our counts are slightly higher,” he said. “The agreement was made on 30 (inmates) but our numbers are pushing 40, I believe.”

“We’re pushing to 45, and at times, 53, for a month’s average, basically from December on,” Quinn said, “so we’ve been on a first-name basis with these folks (at Cumberland County) and they understand that. When I call them, we’re on board with everything. They understand the whole picture.


“Thursday, we’re meeting to do the reconciliations up until now,” he said. “Because we all agree we don’t want to wait until July 1 and try to go back a whole year and make up for some things that have changed.”

Quinn said Oxford County might be saving money by boarding inmates with medical needs at Cumberland County.

“Down there, the (medical) monitoring for them is they run down (and) get that taken care of,” Quinn said, “and that saves us the $1,000 trip to the (local) hospital (for) the heroin, the drugs, the withdrawal, the alcohol (treatments), the things like that that cost us $1,000.”

“Since we have to pay their medical bills, what’s the difference?” Commissioner David Duguay asked. 

Quinn said it would make a big difference.

“It’s $1,000 here, and it’s maybe $60-80 down there,” Quinn said. “So we’re using that … Medicines are much cheaper there because they have a formulary.

Quinn said if a person is on an anti-seizure medication, at a pharmacy, the jail would have to pay full price for the medication.

“Down there, it’s a formulary, and it’s much cheaper — it’s pennies,” he said. “From what I’ve heard so far, I think our medication costs are going to be extremely important to what we’re going to be getting for a bill.”


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