State tells sheriff to cut proposed budget

Posted Sept. 25, 2009, at 11:57 p.m.

MACHIAS, Maine — Washington County Sheriff Donnie Smith said a directive from the state Board of Corrections to cut his proposed 2010 budget will result in the loss of at least one corrections officer.

It will also require Smith to cut his inmate population from an average of 40 to 45 a day to 32 a day, and could result in his filing a lawsuit against the BOC and the Washington County commissioners.

“This is not about me,” Smith said Friday. “The office of sheriff requires me to protect the people of the county, not just from other people, but also from big government takeovers.”

Smith received the notification Thursday for his 2010-11 budget that begins next June.

Smith said that before the state took over county jail operations, he had already cut his yearly budget twice.

“Then the state locked in the cap and now I’m being punished for operating efficiently,” he said. “I warned our state delegation that this would happen, and not one county commissioner stood up with me.”

Smith’s proposed budget was $2,020,370, just 1.6 percent over the cap of $2,000,525.

“We were told that we had some flexibility in our budget, that we had a 6 percent flexibility,” Smith said Friday. “We were told that anything over our cap would be paid by the state when we all knew the state didn’t have any money. Now I’m being told to cut $32,000.”

“That increase is union-negotiated salaries and benefits and other costs, such as utilities and food, that I cannot control,” Smith said.

Department of Corrections Deputy Commissioner Denise Lord said Friday that when all the counties’ budgets were received, they averaged a 7 percent increase.

“The BOC then looks at the rate of growth in each county and makes individual adjustments,” she said. “The adjustments will vary by counties.” Lord said some counties came in with budgets more than 10 percent greater than this year’s, while others were well below their current budgets.

The goal is to have no budget increase by more than 1 percent, Lord said.

Smith said cutting back to 32 inmates would be just the first step. “These cuts are not the end. This is just for next year. In the future, if I find that because of cutting the budget I am unable to operate this jail safely and correctly, I’ll shut down the facility,” he said.

“How does this help the state? Any inmates that I send them will just go to other counties,” Smith said.

Smith is particularly bitter because he feels that the Washington County delegation and commissioners supported the idea of the state takeover of county jails.

“Any legislator that voted for this has a lot to account for,” he said.

The statute, passed in 2008, was aimed at property tax relief. “Have your taxes gone down?” he asked rhetorically.

Smith said he felt from the first discussions of state-county jail consolidation that the statute violated the requirements of his office as sheriff.

Smith said he contacted an attorney Friday to determine if a lawsuit is appropriate.

Meanwhile, he has a few months before his budget cycle starts and hopes that the position he intends to cut will be opened up due to attrition.

“Laying someone off is the only way,” he said. “We can’t cut off television, newspapers and desserts. The state requires all those things.”

sunrisecounty@bangordailynews.net

255-0618

“These cuts are not the end. This is just for next year. In the future, if I find that because of cutting the budget I am unable to operate this jail safely and correctly, I’ll shut down the facility.”

Donnie Smith, Washington County sheriff

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