One of the most important jobs as Sheriff is finding that balance between providing excellent service while simultaneously keeping costs down. I recognized early on that Franklin County is very large geographically but sparsely populated with just over thirty thousand people. The median income of a Franklin County resident is $41,665 a year with a poverty rate of roughly 12%.
Today having that in mind while it would be nice to try such things as making the organization accredited, the added cost to attempt such a venture would be extreme and actually take away from the services currently being provided. Every year, working with the commissioners, we provide a budget that finds that balance and are blessed that for the most part we maintain what we need to provide excellent service.
The one strange part of my budget has to do with the jail. It is the only part of county budgeting that we cannot actually
bill out for the full cost of actual services. This is a left over from the State of Maine’s Board of Corrections, which was an attempt by the state to take over county jail operations and freeze jail budgets to save money.
When I first took over in 2013 the jail had been reclassified as a 72-hour facility. This meant that when prisoners were brought in, unless they bailed immediately they were shipped to Somerset County. You may say so what? Well again it had to do with budgets. When the jail was reclassified in 2008, the budget for it was frozen at that level ($1.6 million) and many employees were terminated.
Every year since then, the citizens of Franklin County were still being required to provide 1.6 million in taxes to run the jail as a 72-hour facility, except that $600,000 of that was sent off to other counties to run their jails! This meant we were expected to maintain ours for just one million. Over time, the cost of doing business continued to rise, but the amount of money we were allowed to collect
didn’t. The state also failed to contribute additional cash into the county system, so by 2015 the Board of Corrections system collapsed upon itself.
We had been actively preparing for that moment and were ready. We applied for and received permission to reopen the jail; however we were stymied in our budgeting process. Having been frozen at 2008 budgeting levels, we were now trying to reopen with minimal staffing/marginal costs. In 2015 it cost us $1.8 million roughly to reopen the jail, but we were only allowed to tax out at the 2008 level - which left us at least $200,000 in the red before we spent a dime on operations. We had to reach into our jail reserves that had been built up over the years to help with this. Today we are working in concert with the Maine Sheriff’s Association and the Maine Legislature to eventually eliminate state control over county budgets and allow the counties to manage their jail budgets.