TBRJ nods audit, reconsiders solar

Wed, 11/20/2019 - 10:45am

Two Bridges Regional Jail’s economic model is shifting, Col. James Bailey said. For the last few years, the jail has financed itself with contracts with other counties. But as other counties seek better deals or build their own jails, the way the jail finances itself has to change, Bailey said.

Part of that change is hoped to be the Medication Assisted Treatment program, which now has eight inmates enrolled, and a program for female inmates starts this month. But one of the largest of the sending counties, Penobscot County, has asked that its inmates not be enrolled in MAT because they can be pulled out for work programs and other programs at will, and ENZO Recovery wants inmates to be in for at least eight weeks. The long term goal is to increase the program and create an infrastructure outside the jail for inmates who are released but require services such as housing, job placement, and continued medical treatment and therapy.

Bailey hopes to reopen a pod that will close at the end of the year to help save money temporarily. He hopes the pod can serve a larger MAT program. He had thought it would be possible to keep the pod open as the MAT program, but it is taking longer than he anticipated. Several open corrections officer jobs will not be filled for now. “There are a few things in the works I am hopeful will play out to make it possible to expand the MAT program,” he said.

A funding gap identified for fiscal year 2021–22 has no easy solution, according to Finance Chair Carrie Kipfer. This year, the gap was tightened by shutting down one of the pods and by the subsequent loss of personnel; next year, no such ready source of savings exists. That is, in large measure, why the sheriffs’ offices are seeking a more equitable share of state funding by developing draft legislation, LD 973, an Act to Stabilize County Corrections, which was presented to the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee on Nov. 12.

On Nov. 13, Erica McKay of RHR Smith presented the draft audit report dated Sept. 24. Much of the audit focused on the fact that much of the jail’s fund balance as of June 30 was committed to capital reserves, to pay off the HVAC rooftop units and keep the rest in capital reserves, saving the jail over $120,000 in interest. This left  a budgetary fund balance as of June 30 of $1,011,053, less the use of the fund balance to fund a capital reserve account and pay off the rooftop units and have a small capital reserve account that was uncommitted, totalling $991,428, with a net balance  of $19,625.

The authority approved the draft audit.

For the jail, this meant a strict watch on finances during the new fiscal year. Kipfer said that at the end of the first four months, the total spent should not be more than 33 percent of the expected income, and it has not been, except for one or two line items dealing with inmate medical costs. In total, the jail has so far met the necessary limits.

In fall 2017, TBRJ considered adding solar panels to a field adjacent to the jail to offset some of the jail’s electric costs. Because the jail had just received a lucrative offer from a power provider, the matter was dropped; however, two years later, costs have increased and, with a new administration, solar is once again considered a viable option. Peter Lepari, chair of the Strategic Planning Committee, asked Brett Strout of the Buildings and Grounds Committee to look into options for solar.

The option available in 2017, from ReVision Energy, involved a power purchase agreement with a third party who would finance the panels and sell the electricity to the jail for a set amount for 20-25 years, after which time the jail would  have the option of  buying the panels at their depreciated cost and make its own electricity. Since then, another third party is looking into possible solar panels near Wiscasset Municipal Airport, and the committees agreed to ask that vendor if there was a possibility of working with the jail, or going back to ReVision to hear a new proposal.