May 24, 2019

County officials OK regional jail talks

BANGOR – Penobscot County officials will meet next month with their Waldo County counterparts to discuss developing a regional jail.

Penobscot County commissioners voted Tuesday to attend the next Waldo County commissioners’ meeting on Aug. 17, the first of what could be many meetings between the two counties.

Waldo County officials said earlier this month that they were willing at least to discuss a joint venture in hopes of reducing crowding at their jail, a problem being faced around the state. Until then, Penobscot County was feeling a little lonely at the discussion table after Piscataquis and Somerset counties declined its offer.

Somerset County officials cited concerns about the great distances and time required for deputies and officers to drive to reach the jail, not to mention the potential hazards they placed on officers transporting criminals.

In a July 14 response, the Somerset County commissioners said they also were concerned about jurisdictional issues and the potential loss of jobs should a jail be relocated.

In the letter, Somerset County Commissioner Joseph Bowman said that Somerset has been working on getting a new jail for two years and that the jail variance it has expires at the end of this year.

“To engage in Joint Venture Discussions now would only hinder our progress,” Bowman wrote.

Their counterparts in Penobscot County, however, said Somerset County officials were missing the point. Even if Somerset County doesn’t sign on for a jail, the counties could work together in many ways, and discussions could pave the way to developing those ideas, the Penobscot County commissioners noted.

“You’re saying you want to do regional things with municipalities and you can’t even talk to other counties,” Penobscot County Commissioner Peter Baldacci said at Tuesday’s commissioners meeting in Bangor.

Baldacci also disagreed with Somerset County Sheriff Barry DeLong’s assertions that state law prohibited a jail from being located outside a county seat.

Rather than replace the county jails, Baldacci said, the regional facility would serve to augment them, providing space for post-sentencing inmates. He said these inmates no longer need to make court appearances or have visits from a lawyer, requiring transportation between the facility and courts.

Bob Howe, executive director of the Maine County Commissioners Association and the Maine Sheriffs Association, said state law allows building a county building outside the county seat.

As a lobbyist, Howe, a former state legislator, said he penned legislation in 2001 that specifically allows for two or more counties to plan, finance, construct and operate regional correctional facilities.

In other action at Tuesday’s Penobscot County commissioners meeting, the commissioners approved a contract with Rick Townsend of Hudson to renovate a Kingman home the county purchased for $1 from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The contract calls for paying Townsend $13,400 for the repairs. The commissioners intend to sell the home with the proceeds to benefit Kingman.

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