Piscataquis County lacks funds to upgrade jail and courthouse

DOVER-FOXCROFT — The Piscataquis County Jail and courthouse have serious air flow problems, but the Piscataquis County Commissioners say there is no money to make the repairs.

Joshua York, the county’s head of maintenance, said the upgrades would cost more than $1 million. 

A variety of repairs and upgrades are needed at the Piscataquis County Jail, which should be prioritized because of the aging infrastructure, York told commissioners Tuesday. The control system at the county courthouse is failing and has become difficult to monitor, and there is a lack of air flow at the District Attorney’s Office, he said. 

Commissioners agreed that the county should be more aggressive about putting aside money for major capital projects in the future. The county was awarded $3.2 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds — half in 2021 and half in 2022 — which was allocated to hire an ARPA consultant, replace 38 computers and purchase an email program with improved cybersecurity. Commissioners decided earlier this month to dedicate remaining funds to radio communications upgrades for the county’s emergency responders.

Observer photo/Valerie Royzman
Piscataquis County Commissioners James White, left, and Wayne Erkkinen listen as county department leaders provide updates during a meeting Tuesday.

ARPA funding has limitations, and general infrastructure spending is not covered, with water, sewer and broadband investments being exceptions, according to the National League of Cities. Funding can be used for maintenance of infrastructure or pay-go spending for building new infrastructure under general services.

“I realize the [county’s] money is already earmarked for other projects, but I still felt I should follow through and throw this out to you,” York said, adding the upgrades would save the county about $30,000 annually.

Besides new boilers, equipment at the jail is mostly original and obsolete, including pumps for  air conditioning and heating, he said.

“It’s hard to find parts,” he said. “Things have been breaking. We’ve been trying to patch stuff as we go along. If something fails, it’s going to be a big cost.”

Chair James White asked York what improvements should be prioritized.

The jail is in the worst shape and would cost more than $1 million to upgrade, York said. The air conditioning unit caused problems in the fall, which are likely to return this spring.

The county will have to plan for capital improvements like this and work them into the budget, County Manager Michael Williams said.

“We’re going to have to be booking $25,000 or $30,000 a year away into capital to start working on this stuff,” he said.

The county should have been doing much bigger capital layouts for the big ticket items like A/C chillers over the years, White said. For the last five to seven years, capital accounts have worked well to keep problems under control in county buildings, he said.

The next meeting is scheduled for 8:30 a.m. March 8 at the Peaks House, 163 E. Main St. in Dover-Foxcroft.

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