Sheriffs Respond to Jail Budget Request 

Sheriff Donnie Smith has concerns over the future of the Washington County Jail. It stems from a letter sent by the Department of Corrections about budgeting for next year.Smith says his jail budget is already bare-bones this year.”I was running pretty efficiently, in my estimation. We have asked for no increases here. So now that the state has a financial crisis, they are tapping into county resources to balance their budget. I just think that’s unfair to taxpayers,” Smith says.The letter sent last week asks officials in every county to look at their current budgets and figure out how they might be able to keep jail operations at a certain level of expense.Smith says for him, that means a cut of 32-thousand dollars, and the only way he could do that would be to cut one of his corrections officers and reduce the inmate count.”It would be impossible for me to hold 42-45 inmates without the correct staff. It would be unsafe for the corrections officers and unfair for city taxpayers if something goes wrong,” Smith says.In Penobscot County, Sheriff Glenn Ross says they wouldn’t have to cut jobs to comply with the request, but they are looking at lean operations.”There already have been job losses. Three counties were downsized. You can only cannibalize a system so far and keep it going. So this is going to be a very difficult year for the powers that be in the budget process,” Ross says.Denise Lord with the Department of Corrections says the letter was only supposed to be an initial request for information.”The reaction may be premature, as the letter was clear. It talked about preliminary budgets and it was clear that the counties were to look at their corrections and only build in the costs associated with maintaining the status quo,” Lord says.”They have to fund it correctly so we can operate it safely. And I will stand by that,” Smith says.The state has asked for a response from county officials by October first.