AUBURN — Believing that an emergency situation does not exist, the Androscoggin County Commission denied a request by the district attorney to tap into the county’s contingency funds so he can consolidate his staff’s offices into a new home on Lisbon Street in Lewiston by Sept. 1, four months before the end of the current fiscal year.

The commission did grant District Attorney Andrew Robinson and commission Chairwoman Beth Bell permission to negotiate terms of a lease at 55 Lisbon St. for office space that would begin Jan. 1. 

The building, the granite Depositors Trust Building, is next door to the District Court building.

Robinson had requested two things from the commissioners — the ability to negotiate the lease and for them to declare an emergency so he could move his staff by Sept. 1.

The district attorney’s staff works at the Androscoggin County courthouse in Auburn and an office at the District Court building in Lewiston.

Androscoggin County is switching to a Unified Criminal Docket beginning Monday, July 6. The UCD will streamline the criminal cases for the two-tiered court system — Superior Court and District Court — into a single docket for both felony and misdemeanor charges. All cases will initially begin in Lewiston. Felony cases heading to trial will later move to Superior Court in Auburn.

But with the misdemeanor and felony files in two different offices, the ability to move files back and forth becomes a logistical nightmare, Robinson said. 

The District Court building has no extra space to expand the office.

“The reason why I think ’emergency’ is the impact on the staff itself,” Robinson said. “The question I would ask is, ‘How do I get these files stored here in Auburn on the second floor over to the second floor in Lewiston?’ Do we ask the employees to use their private vehicles?”

Robinson was also concerned about the physical impact on his staff to haul large, heavy boxes filled with 50 or more court files between the two offices. At last week’s workshop, Robinson said it would take more than 30 minutes per trip to move files between offices and return.

“It’s going to take a physical toll on folks, and we’re going to be subject to liability,” Robinson said. “If they are using their private vehicles and something happens when they are performing the work of the county, and they’re doing it day in and day out, we have to consider that.”

The lack of office space is also an issue, Robinson said. The ability for his staff to hold private discussions with victims is nearly impossible in the tight quarters, where desks are pushed up against each other.

Not everyone agreed that these problems met the definition of an emergency.

“From my opinion, this does not constitute an emergency,” county Treasurer Robert Poulin said. “The biggest element is that it would cause inconvenience to employees to move from one location to the other.”

“I’m struggling with the emergency part of this,” Commissioner Randall Greenwood said. “I don’t believe this rises to the level of emergency contingency funding.”

Bell recommended that Robinson look into the possibility of using a transport or courier company to handle the movement of files.

The district attorney agreed to look into that, adding, “We really can’t look to the current staff and say, ‘You have to haul files over there.'”

“I feel very strongly about that,” Bell concurred. “It is a liability. I think that is just totally ridiculous.”

While most of the commissioners appeared to agree that consolidating the offices made sense, the issue of where to find the extra funds to pay for it remained troublesome.

Commissioner Ronald Chicoine agreed on the current space crunch. 

“We’re not really meeting what you need to do your job properly,” he said. “I’d like to find a way to get that space (at 55 Lisbon St.) because I think it would be ideal.”

Chicoine recommended that Bell, with her background as a real estate agent, join Robinson in negotiating the terms of the lease. The rest of the commissioners quickly endorsed that suggestion.

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