Knox County Commissioners spent five hours Friday, Oct. 15 wading through a draft 2022 budget of nearly $14.3 million, which represents more than a 12 percent spending increase from the current 2021 package.

Much of that increase is concentrated in the corrections and sheriff’s patrol budget.

Sheriff Tom Carroll acknowledged that the requests in the draft budget amount to a huge increase.

“I’m sorry to every taxpayer in Knox County but this is what society is asking of us now,” the sheriff said about dealing with mental health and substance abuse problems. “If I don’t ask for it, then it will be my fault when we don’t fix it.”

He said the county will also need to address pay for law enforcement officers.

Commissioners spent nearly five hours listening to presentations from department heads. There was considerable discussion of whether federal American Recovery Act money could be used for some of the new positions or expenditures.

A revised budget will be mailed to municipal officials by Oct. 26 and an initial public hearing will be held Nov. 4. The commissioners and budget committee will hold a series of meetings. The final public hearing and adoption are scheduled for Dec. 16.

County Administrator Andrew Hart said the $1.25 million increase is due to wage and benefit increases, a sharp increase in medical care for inmates, new positions, and work needed to the courthouse building.

The largest account in the county budget is the corrections budget which is proposed at $5,745,000 in the draft 2022 budget. That amounts to a $947,000 increase. One of the drivers of that increase is the cost for medical services for people held in jail. The county currently pays $379,000 for inmate medical services but that contract is expiring.

Four bids were received with only three offering comprehensive services. Each were hundreds of thousands of dollars more than the current provider is paid.

The budget also include four new staff positions in the corrections department. One would be a diversion deputy, a second would be a person to plan discharges for people leaving the jail to make sure they have access to services when they are released, and two corrections officers to reduce the current high mandatory overtime imposed on jail staff.

The sheriff said he pushes back when people say that the patrol division is doing things it should not be doing.

“If you get a call about a 5-year-old out of control, we can’t say ‘too bad, call a mental health professional,'” Sheriff Carroll said.

When a mental health professional is called, they will agree to meet the parties at the hospital, the sheriff said, but that the distance and time from where a mental health crisis is occurring and the hospital can be lengthy.

He said deputies often accompany someone to the hospital and then wait there for more than 12 hours. A diversion deputy would allow other officers to return to patrols.

The discharge planner at the jail would make sure that people being released receive the services they need to reduce recidivism. He said the evidence is there that such support significantly reduces recidivism. Reducing the jail population is important as it remains at capacity.

The sheriff’s patrol budget is proposed at $2,839,000, up $225,000 (8 percent).

The communications budget is proposed at $1,292,000, up about $9,000.

The airport budget is proposed at $834,000, about the same as 2021. The budget is fully funded by non-property tax revenues such as fees and rent to users of the airport.

The budget for maintaining the courthouse and public safety buildings totals $834,000, an increase of $180,000. The proposed projects include replacing mortar in the back of the courthouse where mortar is decaying and bricks are falling. That section was worked on about 12 years ago but the mortar was not the proper kind, Hart said.

The administration and information technology budget is proposed at $656,000, up $41,000.

The district attorney budget is proposed at $564,000, up $21,000. The salaries of the prosecutors are not included in the county but instead are paid through the Attorney General’s budget at the state level. The finance budget is proposed at $334,000, up $6,000. The probate budget is proposed at $295,000, up $7,000. The deeds budget is proposed at $243,000, up $19,000. Deeds is projecting it will bring in $571,000 in revenues. The emergency management agency budget was approved at $251,000, up $7,000.

Much of the increases in the departments are due to wage and benefit increases.

EMA Director Ray Sisk also raised the possibility of the county using federal grant money to pay stipends to certain essential workers in the private sector such as child care workers. He suggested $1.5 million for that program. That is not included in the budget and commissioners took no action. Sisk said if child care centers do not operate, local residents will not be able to hold jobs.

Camden would pay the largest share of the county budget if the current draft is approved. The cost of county government is divided up largely on property valuations with the more valued towns paying a larger share. Camden’s payments are projected to be $1,929,000, a $212,000 increase.

Rockport is projected to pay $1,342,000, an increase of $132,000. Rockland is projected to pay $1,289,000, an increase of $143,000. St. George is projected to pay $1,177,000, an increase of $151,000. Vinalhaven is projected to pay $678,000, an increase of $67,000. Warren is proposed to pay $598,000, an increase of $86,000. Thomaston is projected to pay $550,000, an increase of $56,000. Owls Head is projected to pay $543,000, an increase of $55,000. North Haven is proposed to pay $448,000, an increase of $67,000. Cushing is projected to pay $447,000, an increase of $51,000. South Thomaston is projected to pay $417,000, an increase of $53,000. Union is projected to pay $407,000, an increase of $50,000. Friendship is projected to pay $368,000, an increase of $51,000. Hope is projected to pay $335,000, an increase of $41,000. Washington is projected to pay $259,000, an increase of $28,000. Appleton is projected to pay $220,000, an increase of $27,000. Isle au Haut is proposed to pay $91,000, an increase of $6,000.