BELFAST, Maine — The Waldo County commissioners’ beleaguered proposal to build a 10,750-square-foot sheriff’s office and Emergency Management Agency building behind the former county jail hit a new roadblock last week.
The planning board voted last Wednesday to postpone its review of the $1 million plan until the commissioners have a better idea of what to do with the historic jail and the house that is home to the sheriff’s office.
Many attended the regular meeting to lodge complaints with the board about the project, said Congress Street resident Thierry Bonneville, who has spearheaded a group of neighbors and others who strongly oppose the plan.
“The county commissioners didn’t really have a complete plan for the whole property,” Bonneville said Tuesday. “They just decided to build a new one without a plan for the big structure they were going to leave. … I think we’ve reached a point where this is altering the fabric of the community.”
Waldo County Commissioner William Shorey said officials are considering what to do with the Sheriff’s Office building, which dates to the mid-1800s.
“We could retain it, we could sell it, we could get a variance,” he said. “There’s probably about five different scenarios that could play out. At the moment, it leans heavily that we likely would retain it.”
According to Shorey, the commissioners probably will hold an executive session to formulate a plan before introducing it to the public. He added that he never thought the process would be “swift.”
“When you’re dealing with a major change to your facility and you have historic districts involved, you just can’t look for rubber stamps,” he said. “You have to have a thorough understanding of it.”
Back in January, Commissioner Donald Berry announced with pride that, thanks to careful savings of tax dollars, Waldo County would not need to borrow any money to build a new sheriff’s office to adjoin the planned EMA building. The move would get EMA staff out of a basement and the sheriff’s office staff out of a building with antiquated technology that had a reputation for the worst working conditions of any sheriff’s office in the state, Berry said at the time.
Bonneville and others who firmly oppose the planned expansion have offered alternative suggestions, including moving the sheriff’s office to one of Belfast’s vacant commercial buildings or building on a parcel the county owns near the airport.
Opponents intend to attend every City Council meeting to keep councilors informed and to try to have them work out another plan with the commissioners, Bonneville said.
“I appreciate their right to do it,” Shorey said. “I believe in this democracy we live in. … If you are opposed to a project for some reason, I also understand what your rights are.”
Waldo County EMA Director Dale Rowley said that the opponents of the planned expansion are mostly neighbors, and that for him, practical concerns are very important.
“If we had all the money in the world, sure, we’d like to go someplace else,” he said. “But we don’t have all the money in the world. I just hope we can get out of this basement.”