Franklin Countys First News

Informational meeting on Dec. 18 to address jail tax limit

FARMINGTON - The Franklin County Commissioners and the sheriff will hold an informational meeting on Dec. 18 to discuss the funding of the Franklin County Detention Center. The meeting is being scheduled as Sheriff Scott Nichols seeks a legislative solution to the funding cap that he says is negatively impacting the county's budget.

Unlike the rest of the county budget, there is a state-imposed tax assessment cap for funding the FCDC. That limit restricts the amount of money that can be raised via taxation to fund the jail, without any relation to the facility's current operating expenses. As a result, Nichols said Tuesday, the county has been forced to drain its reserves to keep the jail in operation.

"Before the first bill is even paid, we're in the hole," Nichols said.

The limit is a holdover from the roughly 10-year-old jail consolidation effort and the now-defunct Board of Corrections. The limit froze assessments at the 2009 level, or $1.6 million for Franklin County.  Unlike the LD1 limit for municipal assessments, which can be raised through a town meeting vote, there is no means to expand the jail limit beyond an annual increase, now at 4 percent.

The issue for the counties, Nichols said, was that the costs associated with the incarceration of people increased more rapidly over the past 12 years. Franklin County's jail budget this year was $2.11 million. Nichols said that the primary drivers of the increase over the past decade-plus was inmate medical costs and adequate staffing for the facility.

"It takes people to manage people," Nichols said. There were also state requirements that the jail had to meet regarding medical needs, required programs and nutrition, he said, and all of those requirements cost money.

The county does receive Community Corrections Fund money from the state - those funds are split between program and operations support - totaling $187,000 last year. On top of that, in an effort to close the then-$3 million statewide gap between the limit and actual jail operation costs, the state provided supplemental funding that brought Franklin County's state support to $245,000 last year.

That helped, Nichols said, but still left Franklin County roughly $40,000 or so in the hole. To fill the gap, the county employed the jail's reserve account - funds left over from previous fiscal years. Over the past few years, however, that account has dwindled from some $300,000 down to $39,890. County officials fully expect those remaining funds to be wiped out this year, even if the state releases a second round of supplemental funding on top of the CCF funds.

Beyond the reserve, Nichols said, there were few options for funding FCDC outside of taking money from other budgets. More drastic solutions, such as converting FCDC back to a 72-hour holding facility or closing it altogether, produced significant cost increases for the sheriff's office and municipal departments, Nichols said. Officers would be forced to transport prisoners to and from Somerset County Jail or some other location.

"You're going to pay, one way or another," Nichols said.

Nichols wants to see legislation passed that would specifically exempt Franklin County from the tax assessment limit, allowing the actual cost of the jail to be paid for through taxes and CCF money. Such a bill would need to be introduced this month and would probably go before the Criminal Justice committee.

To explain the need for the legislation in greater detail, Nichols proposed hosting an informational meeting and inviting municipal officials. Commissioners agreed, scheduling the meeting for Dec. 18 at 6 p.m. in the courtroom of the Franklin County Courthouse.

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  1. Is it just me, or since Sheriff Nichols came to town, the FCDC is always looking for funding for something? Also, this is not the Hilton, it is jail.....the inmates do not need to live better in there than we do out here!!