The 1857 Androscoggin County Courthouse complex at Court and Turner streets in Auburn includes the main entrance to the courthouse, far left, the entrance to the Androscoggin County Sheriff’s Office, center left, and the more recent multistory jail addition, far right. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal file

AUBURN — City leaders in Auburn issued a statement late Thursday calling themselves “shocked and disappointed” at efforts in the State House to push through a new public safety facility on Center Street for the Androscoggin County Sheriff’s Office.

The city-issued commentary, which it posted on social media, said proponents of bills under consideration in Augusta are trying “to eliminate public process in deciding the county seat” of Androscoggin County and undermining Auburn’s home-rule authority.

Auburn officials said they hope state lawmakers “will see through these political games and reject these bills.”

“These matters must be left up to home rule and not decided by state legislators,” Auburn City Councilor Leroy Walker said, according to the release.

The Legislature’s Committee on State and Local Government this week endorsed a bill pushed by state Sen. Jeff Timberlake, a Turner Republican, that would nullify Auburn’s new law requiring a special planning review for public safety buildings.

It would also block the City Council from having the final say on public safety projects like the one Androscoggin County Sheriff Eric Samson envisions, which would move his department into the former Evergreen Subaru dealership at 774 Center St. that Androscoggin County bought 14 months ago for $4.5 million from the American Rescue Plan Act.


The plan has not been submitted for review by Auburn’s land-use regulators. Details about the plan and its likely cost remain murky.

“As a city councilor in Auburn, I have been concerned about the county’s lack of transparency in the selection, purchase and future costs of this project,” Stephen Milks said in the prepared statement.

“I hope that our neighboring communities like Turner can put themselves in our position and imagine how it would feel to have the county dictate when and where facilities — especially a jail — would be placed,” Milks said. “I’m deeply concerned that other municipalities would attempt to dictate what happens in our city.”

Samson wants to move the county offices to the Center Street site, but though he said a year ago that someday the county might want to move the jail there, he has since said that is not in the cards. He said the existing jail is sufficient. But he wants to move the county offices there.

City officials said their concern about moving the jail spurred them to put a moratorium on new public safety projects and, when the moratorium expired, to add extra scrutiny for the projects by regulators.

“The placement of a government building is a once-in-a-century decision,” the city’s release said. “Auburn councilors take this responsibility seriously and they enacted a moratorium to ensure the citizens of Auburn were protected and allow for clarity of intent.”


County officials have said they would put in the property deed that a jail cannot be placed on the Center Street property.

The legislative committee heard from Samson, Timberlake, state Rep. Kristen Cloutier, a Lewiston Democrat, and a public relations expert hired to speak for the county government before approving the measure, which is headed to the state Senate and House for further action.

Auburn officials complained that they didn’t even know Timberlake’s bills were on the agenda until “someone connected with State House legislation contacted the Auburn city manager the night before as a courtesy.”

That allowed Auburn City Manager Phil Crowell to attend and explain the city’s position.

Without the tip, though, “Auburn would not have been able to testify in opposition,” the city said in its statement.

The committee has not acted on a companion bill by Timberlake that would give county commissioners the power to move the county seat to Lewiston.


As of midday Friday, three days after the committee approved one of the bills, the texts of both are still unavailable on the Legislature’s website.

Auburn officials asked people to consider what would happen if the scenario were taking place somewhere else.

The city’s statement said that if the county announced a new building and jail would be moving into Bates Mill No. 5, Auburn’s leaders “would want Lewiston residents to be consulted.”

They’re only asking for the same for Auburn, they said.

A feasibility and a space study conducted in early 2022 by the Auburn architectural firm Harriman concluded that the courthouse lacked the room for a safe and professional operation for the Sheriff’s Office.

Will Getchell, who conducted the study for Harriman, concluded that the Sheriff’s Office requires 20,732 square feet on a three-acre site to meet its present needs, plus room to expand in the future. The department’s space in the basement of the courthouse is less than 9,000 square feet.

The basement area is plagued by mold, few windows, lack of fresh air and leaking toilets, to name some of the problems. The facility lacks training and weight rooms, and adequate interview rooms.

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