A meeting between county and state officials, representatives of the joint Board of Corrections and state representatives July 13 started with accusations and ended with what most agreed was an understanding.

In attendance at the meeting, which was called by Waldo County Treasurer David Parkman, were Commissioner Martin Magnusson and Finance Director Scott Ferguson of the Maine Department of Corrections, Neale Duffett, chairman of the Board of Corrections, state Sen. Carol Weston, state Reps. Veronica Magnan and Michael Thibodeau, Waldo County Sheriff and BOC member Scott Story and the three Waldo county commissioners.

Parkman had several concerns. He wanted to know why the Department of Corrections budget was not subject to the same scrutiny by the Board of Corrections as the budgets of county facilities.

He also wanted to know why some counties were alleging that they had not been paid by the Board of Corrections, and what had happened to the money that Waldo County paid into the unified system.

Duffett confirmed that not all counties had been given their full budgeted amounts, and said the decision was made because some counties had been frugal, meaning they could end up with a surplus at the end of the year — money, he said, that would be unlikely to return to the corrections system.

“Realizing that we needed to save every penny going into fiscal ’11, I thought it best to hold the money at the board level and hand it out as needed as we go through the last half of the year,” he said.

Duffett said that in 2011 the BOC would likely pay the counties for the first two quarters up front, then pay monthly as needed.

Story addressed the issue later in the conversation, saying, “If we just simply threw that money out as it was requested, then somebody would not meet payroll. Somebody would have to close a pod. Somebody would have to lay people off.”

To date, Story said, none of these things has happened.

During the consolidation of county and state correction systems last year, county contributions to the system were capped at 2008 levels, or $2.8 million in Waldo County. Budgets of all county correctional facilities are approved by the BOC.

Waldo County Jail was converted into a re-entry center, serving a six-county region. The Maine Coastal Regional Reentry Center, as the facility is now known, is one of three facilities in the state that costs less to run than the county’s cap, with the balance going to fund other facilities in the six-county region.

Parkman and Waldo County Commissioner Amy Fowler objected to the scrutiny given to the budgets of county facilities like the re-entry center when the budget of the state Department of Corrections is not subject to review. The difference, they said, was not consistent with the “One Maine, One System” motto of the consolidated correctional system.

“Counties have been downsized, mission-changed,” Fowler said. “Have we seen that with the state? No.”

DOC Commissioner Martin Magnusson agreed that the DOC budget should undergo the same process as the budgets of county facilities.

“I’m not looking forward to going to the board,” he said. “But I don’t think we can call it ‘One Maine, One System’ until the department is there presenting too, and I think we’re evolving to that.”

Currently the money that supports the state prison system — from the state’s general fund — is separate from the BOC investment fund that pays for county jails.

Magnusson said the DOC would begin submitting its budget to the BOC in July or August.

“I plan on sitting in the hot seat like Scott [Story] and other sheriffs as we go over our budget,” Magnusson said.

Magnusson said the DOC budget had been very tight. The department lost 95 jobs, he said, and suffered an eight-percent reduction in funding when it should have received a two- to four-percent increase.

“If the working group thinks DOC should downsize, that will be on the table,” he said.

Rep. Veronica Magnan, who serves on the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, defended the DOC budget, saying that the committee had gone through every item in the DOC budget, distilling it until it was something “barely sustainable.”

Story said the system had had some “growing pains,” but was better than when the counties ran the jails. “This is difficult. It’s been painful. But at the end of the day… we have slowed the growth of corrections in the state substantially,” he said. “Not just a little bit, but substantially from where we were headed.”

Because of the cap on county contributions, he said, there has been no increase in the county portion of residents’ property tax bills, and while there has been some increase on the state side of the equation, it has not negated the savings from the cap on county contributions.

He pointed to the boarding exchanges between facilities under the new system as another big improvement. Prior to the consolidation, counties charged each other per-day fees for boarding inmates.

“It was enterprise going on, is what was happening,” he said. “It was a for-profit business.”

There appeared to be some misunderstanding between county and state officials about who had and had not been paid to date. Parkman said the board was sitting on $2.7 million while Two Bridges Regional Jail was failing to make payroll.

Duffett confirmed the $2.7 million figure, but said that Two Bridges had been paid all the facility was owed in 2010. “There’s no doubt in my mind about that,” he said.

Most in attendance, with the exception of Parkman, seemed to agree that the counties should not go back to running their own jails independent of the state.

Waldo County Commissioner William Shorey said he wished Tuesday’s conversation had happened three or four weeks earlier. “If we can all leave here with an understanding that we have a job to do, that we need to have honest and open communication with our representatives in Augusta, with our commissioners, with our various boards, I think we have the makings of a system that will work,” he said.

“I think it was an open, honest conversation,” said Magnusson after the meeting. “I think it was a good idea to have the meeting. It was positive.”

“I though it opened up communication. I didn’t agree with all of it, but it’s a start,” said Parkman. “When they said two to three years [to fine-tune the system], I don’t think we have that kind of time.”