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Oxford County jail faces shortfall as officials prep for local control

by Christopher Crosby, Staff Writer Sun Journal July 22, 2015

PARIS — A looming mandate from the Legislature returning some local control of the county jail has officials scrambling to iron out a plan to facilitate and fund a system that hasn't been in place for seven years.

Oxford County Sheriff Wayne Gallant told county commissioners Tuesday morning he's not sure where an additional $1.1 million needed to upgrade the Oxford County Jail from a 72-hour holding facility to a full-time jail will come from. 

Driving the costs, Gallant said, will be the need to hire nine additional jail employees, overseeing inmates' medical requirements and implementing a dietary menu that conforms with the state's nutritional standards. For example, Gallant said new medical costs would run an estimate $75,000 annually; prescription medications, $35,000. 

However, under LD 186 — a bill passed by lawmakers but which remains tied up in a dispute awaiting decision by the state's highest court — Gallant said there's insufficient funding for the transition. 

The bill would dismantle Maine’s consolidated jail system created in 2008 and partially return control to the counties. To cover the costs, it provides approximately $12 million in state funding for jails and allows counties to raise the portion of taxes going to the jail by up to 3 percent. 

Gallant said it would take $18 million to fund the system.

Oxford County Commissioner David Duguay called the $6 million difference a "tax shift" pushed onto counties by the state. 

The bill leaves the county the option to transition to full-time and set a $36,000 limit on how much more it can ask of taxpayers to get there. 

As that cap is unlikely to cover current spending and the state contribution hasn't been calculated, the effect, according to Oxford County Administrator Scott Cole, may be a hybrid arrangement where only a small portion of the prison population is kept in the county around the clock.