With shocking ease, supporters of a proposal to move the Androscoggin County Sheriff’s Office to a former car dealership on Route 4 in Auburn convinced a legislative committee to endorse a bill that would prevent Auburn from throwing roadblocks in front of the project.

At the tail end of an unexpected workshop Wednesday, the State and Local Government Committee voted 10-3 to back the anti-Auburn measure and attach an emergency designation to it so that it would take effect immediately if the Legislature and Gov. Janet Mills back it.

To approve emergency bills, though, requires a two-thirds majority in both the Maine House and Senate. The decision to add the provision is a clear indication that supporters think they have an overwhelming majority on their side.

The Androscoggin County Sheriff’s Office hopes to move to the former Evergreen Subaru at Center Street as seen in February 2023. The county bought the property 14 months ago for $4.5 million. A bill before the Maine Legislature would clear the way for the county to pick sites for its public safety and government buildings, without having to cope with new requirements imposed by Auburn officials. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal file

The chairwoman of the Androscoggin County Commission, Sally Christner of Turner, said commissioners are “very grateful for such strong support from the committee and our bipartisan coalition of Androscoggin County legislators.”

“The committee understood the problem and solution, seeing through the misinformation,” Christner said. “This is a decisive win for the Sheriff’s Department, County Commission and most of all, the taxpayers of Androscoggin County.”

State Rep. Randall Greenwood, a Wales Republican, said he was appalled at the way the city adopted a moratorium to block the project and then adopted rules that allow Auburn councilors to bar any new public safety building they don’t want.


Next stop for the measure, which the committee adopted before the text of the proposal had even been published, is the state Senate, where its sponsor, Sen. Jeff Timberlake, a Turner Republican, is unlikely to lose.

One of the Maine House of Representatives’ leaders, Democrat Kristen Cloutier of Lewiston, testified in favor of the bill this week, a sign that Auburn may have a hard time thwarting its passage.

“I am very happy that committee members recognized the urgency of this bill as it relates to the health and safety of our county employees and law enforcement personnel,” Cloutier said Thursday. “I am hopeful about its passage.”

Mayor Jason Levesque of Auburn, a Republican, said the way lawmakers handled the bill clearly circumvented any sense of proper process or transparency.

He said nobody has even seen Sheriff Eric Samson’s plans for the property at 774 Center St. Nor, he said, does anybody know how much the project will cost.

“There is no process,” Levesque said, and legislators are undermining the one Auburn put in place to ensure some kind of public review occurred.


Levesque said Samson, whom he called a friend, “is manipulating the residents of Androscoggin County” by using the Legislature to force them to move ahead with a little-understood project with unknown costs.

“It’s a complete abuse of power” by proponents of the project, the mayor said.

Samson, however, has consistently maintained that his department needs new space because his staff shouldn’t be operating out of the cramped and aging basement of the County Building at 2 Turner St.

But legislators on the committee said they were unhappy that Auburn took steps to block the project, including a mandatory review of all public safety-related proposals that includes the ability of the City Council to veto an approval by land-use regulators.

One of the representatives on the committee, independent Walter Riseman of Harrison, said the dispute between the county and Auburn remind him of “a couple of kids fighting over toys.”

“This situation is appalling and both sides should feel some shame and blame — and do something,” Riseman said.


Riseman voted against approving Timberlake’s bill. His minority report, though, didn’t oppose its terms. He simply wanted to add a provision for mandatory mediation on the issues, if that’s something the Legislature can require.

Lewiston Mayor Carl Sheline, a Democrat, said, “It’s really unfortunate that our neighbor city across the river has propped up these countless artificial roadblocks for the county and its planning processes.”

“Auburn’s antics have really introduced a lot of uncertainty for everyone,” Sheline said Thursday.

Levesque said the city’s new regulations merely echo what Augusta has in place for extra scrutiny of government buildings.

That the Legislature is stepping in to stifle Auburn’s version, he said, is “hard to believe.”

“This is what gives government a bad name,” Levesque said.

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