DOVER-FOXCROFT, Maine — A proposed budget for the Piscataquis County Jail that reflects an increase of about $189,000 was approved Tuesday for submission to the newly created state Board of Corrections.
Although jail officials justified the need to increase the budget from $1,365,995 to $1,555,133, Piscataquis County Commissioner Tom Lizotte worried aloud that the increase could send a message to state officials that the county was not operating the jail efficiently.
“We know the Piscataquis County Jail is on the hit list along with other small jails in Maine,” Lizotte said, adding that the state could use the increase to help it with its “new world order,” which would result in the closure of the jail.
Under a consolidation plan adopted earlier this year by the Legislature, county jails now fall under the jurisdiction of the state. Budgets must be developed by county commissioners and then submitted for review by Oct. 16 to the newly created Board of Corrections and the Department of Corrections.
As part of the consolidation plan, the county’s cost for the operation of the jail is capped at $878,939, and any funds above that will be borne by the state. The revenues the county receives from the jail are placed into a special account for jail purposes and can’t be used to help reduce property taxes.
Defending the budget, Jail Administrator David Harmon cited the loss of a $30,000 grant for mental health services, increases in inmate medical, surgical and dental expenses, rising fuel and utility costs, as well as the need to replace a leaking roof and funds to set up a reserve account for the future replacement of the heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system, as reasons for the increase.
“The budget is what I feel we need to have in order to run the jail,” Harmon said Tuesday.
Harmon said it was estimated last year that the roof work would cost $26,000 and he had requested $15,000, but those funds were eliminated. He has included $25,000 in this year’s budget for the project. He also noted the county paid $14,000 last year to make repairs to the aging heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system, which broke down last summer. Since the system needs to be replaced, he has set up a capital reserve account to be funded over a period of years.