AUBURN — Frustrated with the Legislature for putting them in an untenable budgeting bind, the Androscoggin County Budget Committee passed the county jail budget as presented, even though most members believe the anticipated revenues were not realistic.

County Administrator Larry Post and Androscoggin County Sheriff Eric Samson agreed that was likely the case.

The anticipated jail revenues for the 2017 budget were raised so the jail budget would balance. The state requires jail revenues and expenditures be equal.

Unlike other county departments, the state caps how much the jail budget can grow each year through added taxes. 

“None of us feel good about this budget,” Post said.

In order to even get to a balanced budget in September when the Androscoggin County Commission was preparing the budget, Post and Samson met during recess at a seven-plus hour commissioners’ meeting and developed a plan where they hoped an anticipated $298,000 in revenue would materialize and balance that account.

Among the revenue counted upon was $225,000 in additional state funding, $25,000 to board up to five inmates per day from other counties and $48,000 in miscellaneous revenue.

“It’s not how I like to do budgeting, but it’s what we’ve had to do,” Post said.

However, after talking with surrounding counties, Samson said the jail would not be boarding prisoners, and Post admitted he had no idea where the miscellaneous revenue would come from.

Budget Committee member Allen Ward of Lisbon stressed there was no guarantee that the state would allocate additional state funding to help Maine counties fund their jails. He called the anticipated revenues “arbitrary.”

But the panel agreed with Samson that there was no place left in the budget to cut. Before the process began, Samson had already slashed all capital improvements from his budget and left one position vacant, which helped cut $160,000. Additional cuts were also made by commissioners and Post just to get to a balanced budget.

“It’s been really difficult. We probably cut some things we shouldn’t have cut,” Samson said.

Post said there were two possible solutions to the problem: lift the tax cap or get the state to fund what it is supposed to fund.

Expressing optimism, Post said, “Hopefully there will be some logical legislation that passes.” 

Budget Committee member Andrew Titus of Auburn, who has led the fight to trim the county budget, said the state is “strong-arming” the counties to cut their jail budgets.

“We might as well pass this budget as is,” Titus said. “There really isn’t anything for us to do here. It’s a terrible place for us to be in.”

“This has reached the point of absurdity,” said Budget Committee member Anthony Reny of Greene.

Titus’ motion passed 10-2 with Joseph Grube of Lewiston and Guy Desjardins of Sabattus voting against.

The Budget Committee also reviewed the rest of the sheriff’s budgets, making a few adjustments.

The panel will meet at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 26, to review five accounts —Emergency Management Agency, District Attorney, Commissioners, Building and the DA Victim Advocate Grant. The panel will also review revenues, the five-year capital plan and the tax levy.

At the commissioners’ meeting that preceded the Budget Committee meeting, Commissioner Elaine Makas said her Safety Committee received a check for $9,180 from the Workers Compensation Fund for the county’s safety program. Makas proposed the county spend up to $250 to celebrate the achievement with all county employees.

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