Franklin County commissioners approve plan for Church Street Commons

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FARMINGTON — Franklin County commissioners voted Tuesday to approve the newest design to renovate properties to house county government, law enforcement and communication services.

Commissioners also voted to apply for federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds to assist in funding the projects. The panel adopted a resolution in January to establish the county as a recovery zone for economic development and jobs and re-affirmed that priority Tuesday.

The Building Committee has approved the most recent plans. There have been several adjustments and changes to the plans over the span of the two-year process to alleviate space crunches, air quality and safety issues in county buildings.

Voters in all towns in the county will have a chance to consider the currently estimated $4.2 million project during a referendum vote on Tuesday, Nov. 2. There are still some variables in the budget, which is considered a work in progress, said Noel Smith, an architect with Smith, Reuter, Lull Architects.

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If the county is approved for some of the funding options it is pursuing, the cost to a county taxpayer with a property valued at $100,000 is estimated to be $5.70 a year over a 20-year period, John Cleveland, a consultant for the architectural firm, said. As the county’s assessed valuation increases over the years, the cost to the taxpayer would decrease, he said.

The proposal, if negotiations work out to the county’s benefit, is to buy the Church Street Commons building on Church Street, across the road from the county courthouse.

The Church Street building would be renovated including an upper level added on to the annex to the building. All county operations except for Sheriff’s Department, communications center and District Attorney’s Office would be moved to the renovated Church Street Commons. That includes registers of deeds and probate, commissioners and emergency management.

The District Attorney’s Office would remain in the county courthouse but would be moved up to the first floor and out of the basement. The renovations there would be minimum. There are still plans for the state Judicial Department to renovate the courthouse in the future, Cleveland said. The Farmington District Court would remain where it is, he said. An initial proposal was to combine the two courts at the courthouse.

The repairs and modifications to the county courthouse ordered by the State Fire Marshal’s Office are nearly complete, and are expected to cost significantly less than initially projected, county custodian Greg Roux told commissioners. Roux is doing a lot of the work himself.

Commissioners were able to eliminate $50,000 from the proposed 2010-11 budget last month that had been targeted to get the courthouse in compliance. The state accepted a more cost-efficient plan to remedy the deficiencies.

The Sheriff’s Department and the communications center would remain at the County Way building. An addition would be added on to improve space and safety.

The proposed projects would anticipate the needs of the county for a long time, Cleveland said.

There is $90 million available to the public sector under the federal Recovery and Reinvestment Act that will allocated to the 16 counties, he told commissioners. He believes Franklin County’s portion would be about $1.1 million.

It makes sense to allocate that money toward the county building projects, Cleveland said, because it would benefit the whole county.

If the county gets the $1.1 million and uses the Maine Municipal Bond Bank as part of the funding, it could save taxpayers $1.3 million in interest, Cleveland said.

Using the county’s $4.4 billion valuation for 2010, the average annual payment is estimated to be $254,966, he said.

The county is continuing to pursue all funding options to get the best deal for taxpayers.

dperry@sunjournal.com

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