May 27, 2018
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DA expected to move to vacated court space

By Judy Harrison, BDN Staff

BANGOR, Maine — Penobscot County commissioners Tuesday began deciding how the space vacated last month by the Superior Court will be used.

Commissioners gave preliminary approval to a plan to move the District Attorney’s Office to the second floor of the historic Penobscot County Courthouse on Hammond Street.

An estimated cost for the renovations had not been calculated for Tuesday’s meeting.

The prosecutors’ offices currently are on the first floor of the annex behind the courthouse and in the basement of the courthouse. Prosecutors would move into the former Superior Court Clerk’s Office, judges’ chambers, marshal’s office, jury deliberation room and the prisoner holding rooms.

The second floor courtroom would be used as a conference and training room for all county employees and the public, the commissioners decided. Plans for the former court space on the third floor are not complete.

Most of the administrative offices for the sheriff’s department would move to the District Attorney’s space in the annex and the courthouse basement. That would allow a room for video conferencing with the recently opened Penobscot Judicial Center on Exchange Street and other courthouses around the state to be constructed inside the jail where the administrative offices now are located.

Sheriff Glenn Ross has said that having a space to accommodate about 30 people who are in custody and must appear before a judge before they can be released on bail would save up to $100,000 a year due to the cost of transporting inmates to the courthouse and back. Ross also has emphasized that keeping the video conferencing space in the jail rather than putting it in the annex of the former Bangor District Court building would be more secure and save money.

The estimated cost of building the video conference room in the jail is $115,000. It would be paid for by the jail or the state, County Administrator Bill Collins said. Earlier this year, the state Board of Corrections took over running the jails from the counties.

Michael Roberts, deputy district attorney for Penobscot County, said Tuesday that the prosecutors would go from just under 5,000 square feet to just under 6,000 square feet.

“It’s not so much a question of more space that will be an improvement,” he said, “it will be consolidating our people into one area that will be helpful.”

The renovations will include greater security and limited public access to prosecutors’ offices, Roberts said.

“We frequently get agitated visitors at this office,” he said.

The District Attorney’s Office has working space but no permanent office space in the new courthouse. Although plans originally called for prosecutors’ offices to be in the new building on Exchange Street, the judiciary was not able to fit them into the building once it was determined a basement could not be part of the design because the lot is in a flood plain.

Last month, the commissioners decided to rent out the former District Court building. As of Tuesday, no one has signed a lease with the county.

In other business, commissioners approved a $14.8 million budget, which is about $400,000 more than last year’s budget of $14.41 million. The budget includes a 24.4 percent increase for health care.

Commissioners also voted to change insurance carriers from Aetna to Cigna Healthsource. Aetna had proposed an increase of nearly 30 percent due to the high number of claims submitted by the county this year.

County employees’ contributions to the cost of health care coverage will increase, Collins said.


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