Jail funding gap pushing County taxes higher in 2016

9 years ago
     CARIBOU, Maine — The County Commissioners and Finance Committee met at the Caribou Courthouse on last week to hold a public budget hearing.

     During the Nov. 17 session, County Administrator Douglas F. Beaulieu presented the 2016 County Budget, the 2016-17 Unorganized Territory Budget, and the 2017 Fiscal Year Jail Budget. All three of the aforementioned budgets passed without any comments or feedback from the public seated in the courtroom.

     According to the County Administrator, the overall budget is up 5.9 percent and the tax component line is up by 8.2 percent.

     “This budget process has been particularly taxing on us,” said Beaulieu. “Typically, when I get to this point in the year and we have a public hearing, I really feel a sense of relief. However, I won’t feel a sense of relief after the budget gets adopted this evening. Primarily because we have another couple tough years before us. It’s going to be incredibly tough for our county government for the next two years.”

County Administrator Douglas F. Beaulieu explains how, since the Legislature recently gave Aroostook County control of its jails, the next two years will present significant financial hardships during the 2016 County Budget Public Hearing in the Caribou Courthouse District Courtroom on Nov. 17.
(Christopher Bouchard)

 The county administrator elaborated on some of the changes that are potentially responsible for tough years in the future, and how the upcoming budget differs from those in the past.

     “What is so significant this year is that, during the last Legislative session, the Legislature gave us back something that many of us have wanted for years: control of the county jail.

     “This change in giving us back local control of the jail is really welcome, though it is kind of a double-edged sword. Because with that reform effort, while for example in FY 15 when we were essentially under state control, we were getting $1.6 million of state subsidy from Maine. In the year we’re currently in, FY 16, that dropped down by about $1 million to $650,000. So it set us scrambling to figure out how to cover that budget gap.”

     Beaulieu explains a few ways in which he, the Commissioners, the Finance Committee, and Caribou Police Chief Mike Gahagan have attempted to close the gap. According to Beaulieu, the Sheriff has put some “thoughtful time into changing the operational dynamic in the jail in a way that we would save some money.”

     The County administrator explained that they also moved some of the jail funds back into the general fund budget, as this structure was in place “prior to the state taking over the jail.”

     Additionally, Beaulieu said that approximately $600,000 needs to be taken out of the general fund balance to help compensate for the budget gap.

     “It’s certainly nothing to sneeze at,” said Beaulieu. “We’re hoping it will be less than that. Even if it is less, it is likely to be in the neighborhood of half a million dollars. Those are all significant changes that we have had to adopt.”

     For 2015, Aroostook County’s tax commitment is among the lowest in the state at $5,486,959.60, according to Beaulieu. Franklin, Hancock, Oxford and Washington counties have slightly lower tax commitments, and Piscataquis has the lowest at $3,421,419. However, Aroostook has the lowest per capita taxes at $76.34.