BANGOR, Maine — The Penobscot County Commission is pinning its hopes on funding from the Legislature in January to help bridge a $341,000 budget shortfall that could mean layoffs at Penobscot County Jail.
The commission on Tuesday met with Sheriff Glenn Ross and Ryan Thornell, the executive director of the state Board of Corrections, to discuss how to address the projected shortfall for 2015, which began in July.
The five-member Board of Corrections is tasked with running a unified jail system based on collaboration between the counties and the Maine Department of Corrections.
Last week, Thornell told commissioners that the Board of Corrections plan is to ask the Legislature again for supplemental department funding. The board was given an additional $1.2 million in supplemental funding by the Legislators earlier this year.
On Tuesday, Thornell said the board will ask for $2 million in the coming legislative session, with a portion set aside for Penobscot County.
“All I can tell you is that we plan to utilize the supplemental budget process,” Thornell said. “I can’t sit here and guarantee any money to any county.”
The Penobscot County Jail, which has 78 full-time employees and 20 to 25 part-time employees, decreased its operating budget by $291,611 for fiscal year 2015 to about $7.56 million, based mostly on decreased in state funding, according to county Finance Director Scott Adkins.
The reduction, coupled with a projected 2.5 percent increase based on actual spending this year, creates the $341,158 budget shortfall.
“This gap is worsened by the fact that we are budgeted for 143 inmates yet house on average 173-plus a day and often exceeding 180 to 200,” Ross said in a letter to Thornell.
For June and July, the inmate population average was 183, even higher than the annual average, Penobscot County Administrator Bill Collins said.
During last week’s meeting, Ross maintained that reducing inmate numbers — and thus employees — is the only way to stay within budget.
At the end of Tuesday’s meeting, Ross described maintaining the status quo as a blessing from the commission to “go into the red” in operating the jail — a contention disputed by at least one commissioner.
“I don’t see it as going into the red,” responded Commissioner Peter Baldacci. “We’re supporting the supplemental budget so we can avoid going into the red.”