PARIS — Oxford County Administrator Scott Cole told commissioners Tuesday that if the county has to pay more than double the current rate to board prisoners in Cumberland County starting Friday, the county will probably be insolvent in about a year.

The immediate issue for commissioners is how to respond to a demand from Cumberland County that Oxford County pay $108 per day per prisoner to house inmates at the Portland jail. The current rate of $50 took effect last year.

Oxford County inmates may not be held at the Oxford County jail for longer than 72 hours.

Commissioners and Sheriff’s Office officials met Tuesday for a conference call with the county’s attorney to discuss solutions to the jail funding shortfall.

“(The cost of operating a jail) is the only public service funded by property tax that actually has a cap on it,” Cole said.

“Cumberland County is the only practical destination for inmates coming out of here because Androscoggin (County Jail in Auburn) is full,” Cole said.

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Cole told commissioners that Cumberland County is “getting a lot of external inmates, those being held beyond three days … Based on their overall inmate count in their facility and their total budget for the facility, that would put their budget ‘x’ million dollars over (their) average of 451 inmates at a time per day for the head count. It divides out to be $108 per day.

“Based on those figures, their position is that Oxford County has to pay $108 per day to ease the burden on Cumberland. That’s a fair argument. Our challenge is that we just don’t have the money,” Cole said.

“We had the $50 per day fee foisted on us a year ago, which was nonbudgeted funds,” Cole said. “The county was able to make payment for 12 months, at the $50 a day rate, because of existing casino reserves. An applicable statute suggests (at) a certain level of state funding, boarding fees are prohibited, but there are other pieces in the same section of law that allow the receiving county to not take inmates unless it’s on terms that are fair. So you can argue it a lot of different ways. So in the short run, which is now at a year, you, the Oxford County commissioners felt it was prudent to hold off, (and) not fight about … the $50 rate.”

He also spoke of the county’s legislative efforts to increase jail funding.

“Our plan was to go to the Legislature and legally be allowed to bring additional money through taxation,” Cole said. “We had three bills that we ran in the last four months, and we struck out three times. The last battle we won in the Senate but lost in the House.

“That’s all past us now. We did our best. Here we are now a year later and now our partners have gone from $50 to $108 per day” … At the new boarding rate “Oxford County drains out all existing reserves and we go into some kind of insolvency probably by the middle part of 2017,” Cole said.

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Oxford County recently received a $579,000 payment from the Legislature and the Maine Department of Corrections to help with the existing shortfall, but there has been no bonus payment to help with the additional expenses that will begin July 1.

Sheriff Wayne Gallant said he will estimate costs to return his jail to a full-service facility, and Chief Deputy Hart Daley said their office should be able to meet with the Department of Corrections to discuss the proposal, which might prove less costly than continually paying to board inmates.

The conference call with the county’s attorney took place in executive session, but Cole indicated Wednesday that one of his tasks from commissioners is to draft a letter to the Cumberland County commissioners with a counteroffer to their $108 per day demand.

At the new boarding rate “Oxford County drains out all existing reserves and we go into some kind of insolvency probably by the middle part of 2017.”

— Scott Cole, Oxford County administrator


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