AUBURN, Maine — Commissioners unanimously approved a $6 million budget Wednesday for the Androscoggin County Jail, including additional money for four new guards.
But even Capt. John Lebel, the jail’s longtime administrator, figures the new positions will not survive the state budget squeeze.
“It’s disheartening,” he said. “My sense is the additional staff will not go through. But now you’re dealing with safety issues.”
In 2011, the Maine Department of Corrections examined the jail and said seven additional staff people were needed. At the time, the jail had an average daily population of 128. That number has since risen to 148. No guards were added, though.
The problem is a shortfall in state funding.
Within Maine’s county jail network, local property taxpayers’ share of jail costs is capped at the 2009 levy. In Androscoggin County, that share is $4.2 million.
The balance falls on the state to pay, and the situation there is bleak.
Last week, the state’s board of corrections predicted it would see a shortfall of about $560,000 for the current fiscal year, and the state has asked for an additional curtailment of $160,000. The total, about $720,000, will likely be held back from third- and fourth-quarter payments to Maine’s 15 county jails, including the Androscoggin County Jail.
If the state cannot fund the jail at its current level, the feeling is the state is unlikely to increase funds for more positions.
At Androscoggin County, the new staff represents most of a $459,000 budget increase. Other additions include $75,000 in inmate health care costs and $54,000 for employee medical insurance.
Lebel said he is unsure if the state will look favorably on the other costs.
Meanwhile, the state plans to do another analysis of jail staffing and populations this year.
Lebel believes his jail will again be seen as lean on staffing.
“I think our staff-to-inmate ratio is one of the lowest in the state,” he said.