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Penobscot County sends $65M jail plan back to the drawing board in search of cheaper option

Gabor Degre | BDN
Gabor Degre | BDN
The Penobscot County Jail and Penobscot County Sheriff’s Office in Bangor are shown Nov. 14, 2018.

Penobscot County is going back to the drawing board with its proposal for a new or expanded jail in Bangor, weeks after the county’s three commissioners backed a plan to build a new, 300-inmate jail to replace the current one at an estimated cost of $65 million.

The commissioners Tuesday told a jail advisory committee to come up with a proposal for a new or modified jail that would cost between $20 million and $30 million.

Chairman Peter Baldacci said that feedback from municipal leaders and the public caused commissioners to conclude that taxpayers would not support such an expensive facility, which voters would have to approve.

“I think there was a consensus that [the $65 million facility] was the best plan if money was not a factor,” he said. “The concern is that unlike school construction funding, the state does not participate in funding jail construction. We are asking this group to consider what is affordable and what other options there are.”

He said that the debt service on a $30 million facility would be $2.16 million annually over 20 years and $1.8 million annually for 30 years. An expanded facility, meanwhile, would eliminate or reduce the $700,000 bill the county pays each year to board inmates at other facilities due to overcrowding, he said.

Commissioners had previously decided that the former YMCA building — purchased in 2017 for $825,000 originally so the county could renovate it into an expanded jail — cannot be affordably renovated to house inmates or offices. The county instead will tear it down, and the property will become a parking lot for county employees during the work week and for the public on nights and weekends.

The decision to slow down the jail expansion process also was influenced by the fact the final design phase was estimated to cost $925,000, an amount the county has not budgeted, County Administrator Bill Collins said. The county has spent $75,000 so far out of its reserve account for preliminary designs and consulting fees.

Commissioners hoped to put the bond question asking voters for approval to borrow money for the jail on the ballot in June. But because there was no statewide election then, the county would have had to bear the cost of the election in its 60 municipalities. It would not bear that cost if the question were on the November ballot when referendum and bond issue questions are expected to be on the ballot statewide.

Commissioners asked the advisory committee, which includes new members, to come up with a proposed timeline in making a recommendation for a new facility or an addition to the current facility, which is chronically overcrowded,

Sheriff Troy Morton reported Tuesday that over the past few weeks, the jail — built in 1875 and last expanded in 1985 — housed 200 people, well above its 157-inmate capacity. As of Tuesday, 176 inmates were being held at the jail, 60 were boarded out at other facilities and 76 had been released on pretrial contracts.

The sheriff also said he had seven or eight open full-time corrections officer positions.



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