District Court building use focus of discussion

The building of the 3rd District Court in Bangor will be up for rent when the court finishes it's move to the new Penobscot Judital Center. (Bangor Daily News/Gabor Degre)
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The building of the 3rd District Court in Bangor will be up for rent when the court finishes it's move to the new Penobscot Judital Center. (Bangor Daily News/Gabor Degre)
Posted Nov. 18, 2009, at 1:21 a.m.

BANGOR, Maine — The Penobscot County commissioners are ready to put a “for rent” sign out in front of the building — once an A&P grocery store — being vacated this weekend by the District Court.

“We have to get all the revenue we can,” Commissioner Tom Davis of Kenduskeag said, referring to the tight budget being proposed for 2010 primarily due to the loss of rental income from the Maine judiciary and increased expenses because of the relocation of two courts.

The new Penobscot Judicial Center on Exchange Street, where the District and Superior courts will be combined in one building, is set to open Monday.

Commissioners on Tuesday agreed, but did not formally vote, to rent the space as soon as possible to generate some or all of the $140,000 a year the judiciary paid the county in rent for court space. Additional county expenses due to the move to the new courthouse include:

• $3,000 for rental of parking spaces for members of the District Attorney’s Office.

• $10,000 for rental of working space for members of the District Attorney’s Office.

• $20,000 or more for information technology lines so members of the District Attorney’s Office have access to information in their computer system based in the historic courthouse.

The county also will lose $170,000 in revenue from the jail, which now is under the oversight of the state Board of Corrections. Also of concern to commissioners is the estimated $280,000 a year it is expected to cost to transport inmates from the jail to the new courthouse. While that money is supposed to come of out of state coffers, commissioners are concerned the state budget crisis might force the county to pay some or all of that expense.

Commissioners also discussed how county departments now in cramped quarters could be moved into areas currently occupied by the Superior Court. Space on the second and third floors of the Penobscot County Courthouse occupied by the Superior Court would be used by county departments, which need more space, the commissioners agreed.

Possibilities discussed Tuesday included moving the District Attorney’s Office and the county’s victim-witness advocates’ office from the first floor of the annex behind the historic courthouse and from offices in the basement of the courthouse to the second floor previously occupied by the Superior Court clerk’s office and judicial chambers. The second floor courtroom could be converted to meeting space, the commissioners agreed.

The commissioners voted unanimously to have the Penobscot County Extension Center, now located on the campus of University College at Bangor, move into the historic courthouse by April 1. The center most likely would take over basement space in the courthouse now used by assistant district attorneys and victim-witness advocates.

The sheriff’s and other administrative offices would be moved from the Penobscot County Jail to the DA’s former space. Commissioner Stephen Stanley of Medway suggested that a planned videoconferencing system be set up in the annex to connect the new judicial center and other courthouses around the state. The system will temporarily be set up in a former District Court courtroom by the end of the year to keep down transportation expenses from the jail to the new courthouse.

The Penobscot Regional Communications Center most likely would take over the two rooms vacated by the Law Library adjacent to the dispatch center on the third floor. The commissioners did not discuss Tuesday how the rest of the third floor, including a courtroom and judge’s chambers, might be used.

The state probation office now renting space in the District Court is expected to remain.

Commissioner Peter Baldacci of Bangor pointed out that for the District Court building to remain tax-exempt, the county needs to rent space to state and other governmental agencies or nonprofits.

The commissioners voted unanimously to recommend that the county budget committee approve a $14.8 million budget at its meeting at 6 p.m. Wednesday in the Penobscot County Courthouse. The budget committee is made up of representatives from municipalities around the county.

Last year’s budget was $14.41 million. To make up the difference in this year’s and next year’s budgets, commissioners agreed to use unallocated funds from the previous three years. Savings in accounts to purchase equipment also were reduced.

In other business, commissioners voted to spend about $20,000 for architectural services to fix the recreational area where water is leaking into the jail. The estimated cost of finding and fixing the leak and water damage it has caused is between $220,000 and $250,000. The county has set aside about $130,000 toward the repair. The Board of Corrections, which now oversees the county jail system, recently voted to allocate up to $90,000 toward the repair.

jharrison@bangordailynews.net

990-8207

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