Somerset County feuds with state over payment for jail

5:46 PM, Apr 9, 2013   |    comments
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SKOWHEGAN, Maine (NEWS CENTER) --- Tensions are once again heating up over funding for the Somerset County Jail. The Maine Board of Corrections is withholding $280,000 from the jail which would have been used to reimburse the cost of housing prisoners there who were not charged in Somerset County.

Somerset County sheriff Barry DeLong recently said the jail would no longer be taking any additional inmates from out of the county.

The whole dispute stems from the cost of building the Somerset County jail, which opened in 2008. Somerset County took out a bond of about $30 million to pay for its construction and taxpayers are still working on paying off that debt each year.

County directors say they now want to offset that cost by using money that the jail gets to take in federal prisoners. Right now about 45 inmates in lockup at the jail are federal convicts as Somerset County has a contract with the federal government to house them.

The board of corrections says it's now looking into whether every dollar of that money should go right back into the jail's operations budget. Members say that is why they're choosing to withold payment to Somerset County at this time.

County leaders say they're not happy with that move.

"We have a bond debt to pay off," said Rob Dunphy, who is a commissioner in Somerset County, "and all the burden of the $4.8 million and the $2.7 million is a burden on Somerset County taxpayers and it shouldn't be."

"There's a built in mechanism to help subsidize these jails," remarked Michael Tausek, who is the executive director of the Maine Board of Corrections, "whether that figure is the right amount is an argument for another day but there is money that's being used to help these jails subsidize these operations."

Tausek says the state is now dealing with higher transportation costs for inmates. With Somerset County not taking prisoners from outside the county, they now have to be sent elsewhere.

The corrections board will decide whether to release the funds by the end of the month. Leaders in Somerset County say they won't rule out taking legal action to get the money.


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