The tax commitment from Penobscot County towns is expected to rise in 2023. Those taxes pay for county operations including the Penobscot County Sheriff’s Office and Penobscot County Jail. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

Next year’s Penobscot County budget will require towns and cities to contribute 8 percent more to county operations due to rising costs and the need to keep salaries and benefits competitive.

It will cost nearly $27 million to run county operations next year, about $2.8 million more than this year. That’s an increase of more than 11 percent. The spending plan that takes effect Jan. 1 will require an 8 percent increase in taxes from municipalities.

The county’s operations include the Penobscot County Sheriff’s Office and Penobscot County Jail, the Penobscot County Regional Communications Center that answers 911 calls, the district attorney’s office, the registries of deeds and probate as well as services in the unorganized territories that fall within county lines.

The budget committee, made up of representatives from municipalities around the county, approved the budget as proposed by commissioners last Thursday.

Commissioner Laura Sanborn of Alton, who lost her reelection bid last week, on Tuesday thanked committee members for their efforts and lamented the need to increase taxes.

“It is so hard to put more tax burden on the citizens of Penobscot County at this time,” she said. “I will stay involved with Penobscot County and help citizens in northern Penobscot County in any way I can.”

The rising costs of fuel, utilities, food and health care, as well as negotiated salary increases are driving the larger budget, according to County Administrator Scott Adkins.

“This last year has had its battles and none greater than the post-pandemic inflationary pressures,” he said. “The commissioners have had to address wages and salaries to attract and retain good employees.”

Nearly $8 million will go to fund the Penobscot County Jail, up from $7.6 million this year. The state will contribute $3.26 million to the jail’s nearly $11.3 million budget.

For the first time next year, the cost of boarding inmates at other facilities due to overcrowding at the jail will reach $1.2 million. The county set aside about $950,000 for boarding in 2022.

The cost of boarding out an inmate is $85 per day, with an average of 55 inmates boarded out daily, according to Sheriff Troy Morton.

The jail’s daily population in the facility is 160, three more than it is licensed to hold.

On paper, Morton said, the jail has operated at a deficit for years. But that deficit has not materialized due to 12 vacant positions.

The sheriff’s office budget will increase nearly $1.6 million next year over 2022, but revenues will be up more than $757,000. The larger budget will help pay for seven new deputies — two of whom will be school resource officers in Hermon and Eddington. His department answered 18,700 calls last year but is due to surpass that this year due in part to the high rate of drug trafficking in Penobscot County.

Morton said at the budget meeting that deputies will have put nearly 1 million miles on cruisers by the end of the year. The department contracts with seven communities that don’t have their own police departments to provide law enforcement. The department also has had to cover more territory after the Maine State Police reduced rural patrols.

There was some good news on the revenue side of the budget. Income from the state increased 75 percent for the county’s Emergency Management Agency, from $122,000 this year to $214,000 in 2023. And income from the sheriff’s office from delivering court documents will increase from $170,000 in 2022 to more than $500,000 next year due to a change in the law that allows the sheriff’s office to charge more.