Commissioners Minutes from October 6, 2020
Penobscot County Commissioners’ Meeting Minutes October 6, 2020 2304
9:00 AM Commissioners Peter Baldacci and Laura Sanborn 57°
Commissioner Andre Cushing arrived 9:05
Approval of Minutes –
Commissioner Sanborn made a motion to approve September 22, 2020 meeting minutes. Commissioner Baldacci seconded the motion. Vote to approve passed 2-0.
Public Comment –
Monique Gautreau, citizen of Bangor and a 22-year teacher of special education spoke as a volunteer in the jail. As an educator, she was mandated yearly training. She feels that the cost for training for jail personnel is little and considers it a good investment. Ms. Gautreau would like to see additional monies for training added to this year’s budget.
Larry Dansinger, citizen of Bangor presented a statement to the Commissioners. This full statement can be found at the end of these minutes.
His concerns in and about the jail were as follows:
• He has a serious concern about the lack of COVID testing for both inmates and officers. Terry Thurlow says that tests are being done but Larry is concerned that they are not being proactive in testing
• Has requested a copy of the MEDPRO contract so that he can better understand what is in the contract and possibly looking for policy changes
• Larry is concerned with the increasing number of inmates that are coming into the jail. He is uncertain as to what has changed, but would like a reexamination of policies. Larry noted that there were a number of inmates being housed with Class E crimes and Warrant Arrests.
• He is concerned the number of inmates cause unnecessary stress on a budget.
UT Property Tax Valuation Discussion –
Justin McMann and Steven Sullivan, State of Maine Property Tax Field Appraisers presented an overview on the new State property tax valuation.
The discussion was on the recent property tax increases in Maine’s Unorganized Territories and Townships. Justin stated that this year the State did a complete review for the UT not just Penobscot County but other Counties as well. We had monitored values in comparison on what they are selling for. Every sale is looked at; but each sale needs to be qualified. We found that our values were much lower than what properties were selling.
The purpose of the revaluation is to not increase taxes, but to make sure that the taxes are fairly distributed. There are two different components to valuation of properties, there’s the land and then there’s improvements within the land. i.e. buildings, wells and septic, etc. What is found typically in a revaluation is that 1/3 of property taxes go up, 1/3 go down and 1/3 stay the same.
We knew our building values were low as the last building schedule was completed in 2001. We developed a replacement cost per square foot and reduced it by depreciation given the age and condition of the property. We don’t take in consideration asphalt driveways or landscaping. With that said, with the revalued costs most people saw a significant change in their property tax. Prior to this year, wells and septic were not included as improvements to the land value. They now are added at a combined amount of $11,000. Justin defined “market value” as “just value.” Justin then spoke about “mill rate” being broken down into three different parts for county services.
Commissioner Baldacci asked if these assessments were done individually or looked at as a group. Justin stated that they looked at Township specifically or within a region specially. We utilize the cost approach which is supported by the market approach. When you develop a methodology, you are treating all like properties the same. Justin states that they will adjust what the market shows. His department is very accessible if property owners would like a review of their properties. If the citizen would like a site visit, it can be accommodated. Phone reviews are always an option.
Commissioner Cushing asked about the timing of tax notices being sent out. It had been disclosed that residents of Argyle received a letter, dated June 1, 2020 on or around Friday, June 26th with an enclosed inventory form from the Maine Revenue Services notifying UT property owners of a reassessment of property values. The due date for returning the inventory form, detailing our property to Augusta was the following Wednesday, July 1.
Justin stated that the decision had been made to re-evaluate taxes in early 2020. Since we send out over 25 K tax bills, we had quite a few properties that needed to be looked at prior to going out. We understood that some people would call and the State would have to suffer the abatements and appeals. Citizens have 185 days to appeal if they feel it warrants a change in assessment. Mr. McMann states that there are six tax assessors and four office staff; we did have skeleton staffing during the beginning of COVID.
Kat Taylor resident and property owner from Argyle Township was in the audience and requested time with Mr. McMann and Mr. Sullivan. Ms. Taylor had provided a list of questions to the Commissioners and the assessors.
She requested more clarification on the timing of the tax bills/property inventory that went out the end of June, with a “receive by” date of July 1st. Justin stated they had until the end of July to sort through any of the inventory’s that had come in. The department went through each one and put some to the side that needed to be readdressed. Justin states they did their best to take in account anything that was reported on the inventory. Ms. Taylor stated that the inventory list sent out was very detailed; fireplace, generators, type of flooring, along with number of bedrooms and bathrooms. Ms. Taylor asked what type of heating and flooring didn’t make sense; living in a rural area, most of us need alternative forms of heat due to when the power goes out, we are typically the last to get power restored.
Mr. McMann stated that those questions aren’t to penalize you, it is to get a better picture of what quality of structure you have to help assist with the market value.
Ms. Taylor stated that by using “market value” is a disservice to property tax payers. Insurance companies have already charged us for improvements to our properties, where I feel you are penalizing us for the same improvements. In speaking with neighbors, Ms. Taylor states that most everyone had been given an increase of $ 5K in land value and $ 30K for property value across the board. Mr. McMann feels it is complete coincidental that she and her neighbors have all been assessed the same increases. Properties are reviewed approximately every five years. On occasion, it can be longer than that between visits. We try our best to have photo’s on file so that we can compare what was there at that time.
Ms. Taylor reports that Governor Mills gave you a 90-day extension from the State’s property tax exemption deadline. This extension would allow Maine people more time to apply for the new Homestead Exemption, which provides a reduction of up to $ 25K in the value of an individual’s home for property tax purposes, thereby lowering their property tax burden. Ms. Taylor wanted to know how this information was forwarded on to the tax payers. Mr. McMann says that it was placed on the Maine website as a “Tax Alert”; which unfortunately if taxpayers have no internet or unaware of this method of notification. There was no mailing of this information. There was no way for homeowners to successfully apply for this exemption. The deadline has always been April 1st and was simply extended 90 days.
Ms. Taylor circled back to how it was decided that now was a good time to revalue the UT. Mr. McMann states that they have known for some time that values were low, and it had been years since properties had been assessed. We hold municipalities to a certain standard and maybe we should hold ourselves to the same set of standards. Ms. Taylor states that why are the UT’s held to the same standards as municipalities when we don’t receive the same services. Mr. McMann states that they don’t look at tax amount, they look at values. They are not tasked at what the tax amount is, but what the value of the property is so that the taxes get distributed equally. The State has no control on budgets since those are voted through legislature.
Before meeting privately with the tax assessors, Ms. Taylor provided the following statement:
“The timing of this couldn’t come at a worse time. People are suffering from loss of jobs loss of loved ones, standing in line at food banks, applying for benefits (sometimes for the first time) with uncertain futures, fearful for their very lives and have only the shelter of their homes for sanctuary which may now become unaffordable.
To prey on the most marginalized of our citizens when they are the ones needing help the most is tone deaf, heartless and downright cruel. The 2020 election year of political promises of expanding rural broadband to aid the rural economy, distance learning, working from home, telemedicine and helping our elderly age in place, fall on deaf ears when people are literally taxed near to death since they may lose their homes, go into debt or have to do without essential needs just to pay their property taxes.
The effects of this tax increase have far reaching consequences. What will the ripple effect be with folks who pay their property taxes through their bank that holds the mortgage? What are renters who will get an increase in their rent because their landlord gets this sudden tax increase? What happens when fiscally prudent people save money all year for winter fuel now see that money evaporate to pay a higher tax bill? What will happen with agencies who offer low-income people fuel assistance, food stamps or Maine Care?
Most likely these agencies will see an influx of applications since tax bills are counted against income when determining eligibility. And this comes at a time when budgets have already been set so those who normally depend on this support will most likely get less.
It would be equitable to extend the deadline for the Homestead Exemption until 2021 to allow homeowners more time to apply for this year retroactively.
It would be more equitable to delay this new property tax increase, allow property owners to pay last year’s amount, give us time to apply for any exemptions/abatements and let any unpaid balances be interest and lien free, until all the forms are processed and/or the next property tax due date of October 1st, 2021.
The government has ordered moratoriums on rents due, mortgage payments and evictions; this is no different. The entire process of property assessment needs to be reviewed. Property values should be based on actual property attributes, not by a one size fits all approach. UT’s need to be assessed differently from municipalities and their taxes used to offset UT costs, not the cost of providing services to municipalities.”
UT Update –
• Director Shaw Weeks received a request from a citizen in Greenfield Township that a “PLEASE REFRAIN FROM ENGINE BRAKING” sign be put near the intersection of Cross and Bradbury Road due to logging operations very early in the morning.
• Director Weeks received an ATV use permit request from a resident for Argyle. He would like to use Southgate, Edinburgh and Argyle Roads. Director Weeks will be communicating that the State maintains the Southgate and Edinburgh Roads, not the County; and will educate that ATV use permits are for established ATV Clubs only.
EMA (Dept. 3) Budget Presentation-
Director Michelle LaBree reported EMA’s (Dept. 3) budget for the 2021 year.
• Director LaBree reported that since COVID her department’s role and response has changed their normal activities. Thus, we have not spent much money this year. Other than Payroll increases, there are no other changes to her budget.
• Commissioner Sanborn moved to approve EMA (Dept. 3) budget for the 2021 year as presented. Commissioner Cushing seconded the motion. Vote to approve passed.
EMA Update –
• Director LaBree reported her department is participating with the hospitals and local groups for mass vaccinations for seasonal flu and a COVID vaccination when it becomes available.
• COVID testing has been moved from Bass Park to a temporary structure near the airport.
• EMA is a resource for everyone within the County. EMA helps provide any specific PPE needs.
• Options for COVID testing include you can go to Northern Lights and get results within 24 hours; or the State lab sometimes has a 3-7-day turnaround. First responders have been given priority to get quicker results.
DA Update –
• DA Marianne Lynch stated that she had a productive meeting with Sheriff Morton and Federal drug czar Mr. Conley last week. It had focused on what the opioid crisis has done particularly in our rural communities.
• The entire DA staff will be completing biased training which is very appropriate given the current circumstances.
• Our diversion program which we’ve partnered with BARN, is excited to reopen on a limited basis at the end of the month. The BARN is allowed to have 15 people plus 5 staff members total. We will be very thoughtful by providing necessary education to assist people in getting back on their feet; where to find a job, etc. Right now, the hard part is for trying to connect people with services. Marianne feels very supported by the Commissioners and law enforcement.
• Bangor PD is thrilled with our partnership to have part-time victim witness advocate Amy McCrae available. Amy has been able to be on scene during some very troubling domestic violence cases in addition to providing support to families.
• DA Lynch is exploring the idea of renting space at Newport Court.
• Penobscot County has completed the first murder jury trial in the State. It was “all hands-on deck”.
• Courts are in dire straits; cases are continually added and we just don’t have ways to process them. Our clerical is drowning in workload. We are adding to an already stressed clerical staff by the Court system not taking cases away. They still have to be processed. The Court wants limited arraignments; although they have spacious court rooms and plenty of judges, they lack judicial marshals. For years, the Sheriff’s Department provided this service, then the State took on judicial marshals at a higher cost.
DA (Dept. 5) Budget Presentation-
DA Marianne Lynch and Office Manager Kristine Higgins presented the DA’s (Dept. 5) budget for the 2021 year.
• Payroll sees an increase due to a 53-week year, cost of living increases, a part-time Victim Witness Advocate added and a modest increase for office manager. What is not added, but we would like to include would be a part-time clerical position (25 hours week/$15)
• The budget does shows a lot of uncertainty because of COVID; such as the Prosecutors conference that does not look like it will happen but we will keep it in the budget.
• A small bump in rental for the Newport Court space if it becomes available. If able to place a lock on the door, it would benefit us to be able to house our equipment so that we don’t have to carry it with us each time we travel. Newport is a very busy court. Having our presence is beneficial.
Sheriff (Dept. 12) Review Updated Budget Presentation-
Sheriff Troy Morton reported Sheriff’s (Dept. 12) updated budget for the 2021 year.
• The following modifications have been requested and made:
o Software for Bangor PD
o Increase in Revenue has increased substantially due to the two new contracts with the UT
• Commissioner Sanborn moved to approve the following adjustments as amended and approve the Sheriff’s Budget as presented. Commissioner Cushing seconded the motion. Vote to approve passed 3-0.
Sheriff’s Update –
• Sheriff Troy Morton reported today’s jail total population is 185; 35 boarded in other facilities; 170 in Pre-Trial services; 1 County Swap and holding 3 State Inmates.
• The DOC has requested a master plan on where to move people if we have a Covid outbreak in the facility. This proves to be difficult as we are having a hard time finding a facility that will take inmates when we are overcrowded. DOC also noted that some inmates refusing to wear masks. DOC noted this is a health issue so you may take any necessary precautions you deem necessary.
• Sheriff stated that the murder trial added a tremendous extra burden to an already stretched staff and overcrowded jail. This trial was a Washington County case. It had absolutely nothing to do with Penobscot County.
• State Court Administrator Peter Schleck has been very helpful.
• We held a PACE program with 8-10 participants; another class is being set up for winter.
• Flu shots will be provided again for inmates with medical conditions and those over 50 years or older. Sheriff has spoken to MEDPRO asking if other inmates wishing to be vaccinated would be allowed to have one. The answer is yes.
Administration Update -
• Administrator Collins reported that a woman from Brookfield Renewable called again for the 2020 Property Tax for the Town of Woodville. After numerous attempts to contact the Town, it still hasn’t been resolved. Bill has passed on that information to MRS representative Justin McMann.
• The parking hangtags for employee cars have been ordered. The Commissioners agree to continue the $ 5 fee for a two-year permit.
• Notices have been sent to the towns and in the newspaper for the Budget Committee Caucus that will be held Thursday, October 15th at 5:30 pm.
• A public notice was received from the Historic Preservation Commission Meeting at 15 Columbia Street on Thursday at 7:00 p.m.
• There will be a tax abatement hearing Tuesday, October 27th for a resident of the Town of Stetson.
• There was storm damage which resulted in some tree limbs down on employee cars. Director MacDonald hired a tree company to take down a number of trees.
• There is no further update on the lady that may have fallen on our steps.
• FOP negotiations will be taking place on the 19th.
• A reminder that our offices for non-essential personnel will be closed Monday in observance of Columbus/Indigenous Peoples’ Day.
• Erica participated in the virtual PRCC board meeting last Wednesday and again this Thursday.
• Interviews were held last Friday for the new HR position.
• Payroll Change Notices signed for: Julie Philbrick – Hired full-time.
• Payroll Warrant to be approved for 10.02.2020: $ 288,019.59
• Accts Payable Warrant to be approved for 10.01.2020: $78,577.25
• Accts Payable Warrant to be approved for 10.06.2020: $450,635.23
• UT Warrant to be approved for: NONE
• UT TIF Warrant to be approved: NONE
Executive Session---Commissioner Cushing made a motion to go into Executive Session at 10:50 a.m., under 1 M.R.S.A. § 405 (6) (A) Personnel Matter. Commissioner Sanborn seconded the motion. Vote to approved passed 3-0. Present were: Commissioners, Administrator Collins and Director Honey. Session ended at 11:21 a.m. No votes taken.
Commissioner Sanborn moved to adjourn the meeting at 11:22 a.m. with no further business on the agenda. Commissioner Cushing seconded the motion. Vote to approve passed 3-0
Administrator, William Collins
Peter K. Baldacci, Chairman
Laura J. Sanborn, Commissioner
Andre E. Cushing, III, Commissioner
Larry Dansinger Statement to County Commissioners
Statements to County Commissioners, 10/6/20
Larry Dansinger, 21 Mount Desert Drive, Bangor, ME 04401, (207) 262-3706, firstname.lastname@example.org
I have a continued concern about the lack of testing for inmates AND guards at the jail.
I would like a copy of the contract that the county has now with MedPro. What are they promising to do? My understanding in one conversation with Terry Thurlow of MedPro is that they will take temperatures of inmates or staff but not test unless there is someone who is sick or requested to by the jail. I think the jail needs to do pre-emptive testing of every inmate and staff member and every new person coming into the jail—both new inmates and staff. This is what “an abundance of caution” means, not waiting for someone to get sick and then test them. That’s what happened in York County, and it was too late. The inmate who died there may not have died of the virus, but it’s foolish to assume the virus had no impact on his death.
The number of inmates going back up toward pre-pandemic levels. What’s going on? This must be reversed.
Why has the jail population gone back up? Population was 179 on Sunday with another 34 boarded out. Practically where we were in February. Why were numbers so much lower in the spring? Some of that may have been the result of the pandemic, but I hope some or much of that was the result of changes in policy that need to be continued, not going back to the way things were before.
There will be no new jail in the near or maybe even distant future, so sheriff and police, and district attorney and everyone in this legal system, need to recognize that they need to have a different approach toward who is arrested, what charges, if any, are assigned, bail amounts, whether those who are not convicted of a crime remain in jail, etc.
Why are so many being jailed for bail or probation violations, “warrant arrests,” or for class E charges (almost 50 total)? Bad enough that almost 3/4 of those in the jail are innocent until proven guilty but so many of them for charges that do not need to have them being held at all.
Is anyone in the midst of this criminal legal system trying to see why it is failing and what needs to change to make people in Penobscot County safer? All I see right now is “business las usual,” which is not working. The US Department of Justice says the deterrent effect of some kind of punishment works sometimes, to some degree. But, whether a person is fined, locked up for a month, or a year, or twenty years does not significantly impact whether they stop doing what is judged “illegal.” County commissioners and the sheriff need to take leadership in finding new and more effective ways to “protect and serve” the people of Penobscot County so they can feel safer and have confidence in those institutions. Right now many do not have that confidence.
Suggestions for changes in the county’s budget for the jail (Department 009 of the budget)
31-0019 Transport Officers: Will this amount be lower if fewer inmates are boarded at other facilities? And fewer inmates in general?
31-0024 Cooks: Are you training inmates as cooks? Can you? (This may not affect the budget amount but may benefit inmates.)
38-0001 Transports: Again, if there are fewer inmates and boarding out, can this amount be lowered?
47-2400 Insurance for Employees: Is there a larger group that employees can be part of for medical insurance that can reduce costs? Has anyone done “comparison shopping?”
40-3100 Boarding of Inmates: Again, fewer people arrested and jailed means lower cost for boarding of inmates in other jails.
40-4500 Medical services: This may be too low if the county intends to offer testing before someone comes down with the virus. Waiting until someone—staff or inmate—gets sick is bad public health practice and dangerous to all in the jail, as the experience in York County has demonstrated. It is not “an abundance of caution.” Do inmates have to beg or demand medical care before it is offered? Are there other options for medical care besides MedPro?
40-7000 Counseling Services: Is there counseling taking place in the jail? Are inmates taken out of the jail and put into therapeutic programs instead? What does this contract include? Again, do inmates have to beg or demand counseling before it is offered? If it also includes mental health and substance use disorder professionals going on some 911 calls, in addition to, or instead of, deputies, it should be in a different (sheriff’s) budget.
43-1500 Telephone: Are inmates paying for calls? This has been a huge financial burden for the families of inmates in the past. The jail should pay for the phone service and provide it at no cost to inmates.
46-1000 Buildings and Structures: What will $25,000 buy if large parts of the buildings’ current configuration need to change? If programs for inmates make a difference, how can the jail provide that if there is so little money offered to create usable space for that?
48-0500 Advertising: For what? (“Clean rooms, share bath, meals provided?”)
49-4000 Training Education: What kinds of training have been done and are being proposed? Is this weapons training, or “empathy,” or “stress reduction,” or “de-escalation,” or what? While training for guards to address situations where they are not trained is better than them going with no training, it would be much better still to send people to those situations who are trained to do that as a job, rather than a deputy who is not. If there are conflicts between inmates, or between inmates and guards, a neutral third party would do better than another guard.
51-0400 Food and Groceries: A lower amount if the jail population is reduced?
51-0500 Food Meetings: This is risky if people are eating with others in the same space. Why not zero out this item?
52-0500 Fuel Oil: I assume heating costs for the whole county complex include the jail, which is why there is no separate cost for heat for the jail. However, this hides a very large cost and is deceptive in describing the true cost of operating the jail. Is there an option for installing heat pumps (assuming the building can have that option)?
53-3000 Medical-Medicine-Lab: Does this include Medication Assisted Treatment? Will it include virus testing? If not, it should include both.
55-0500 Periodical and Subscriptions: Does this include for inmates? What do they have to read? This is a very cheap way to do a little “rehabilitation.”
55-1000 Statute and Reference: Do inmates have access to this information? They should, since they can use it to educate themselves about the charges against them. If they don’t have adequate access to lawyers, they should at least have access to some updated (not ten year old statute books) legal information.
40-7000 Part 2: This is separate from the earlier budget item. Why are there two? What is the difference? Does that mean that the total cost of counseling services in $320,000?
05 State /DOC: Can the county expect that amount of money from the state, given the strain on state finances? Has that amount been guaranteed? If not, what is the realistic expectation?
35 Court Surcharge: Are inmates or inmate families paying that amount? Many have already lost significant income by being jailed. Getting blood from a stone?
36 Medical Co-pay: How will the virus impact this amount?
99: Revenue Deficit: How will $742,859 be made up?