Public safety building idea gets pushback

ELLSWORTH — City councilors voted unanimously Monday night to move forward with exploring the idea of constructing a public safety building, though it encountered resistance from citizens who voiced concern about location, cost and need.

The council voted to enter into a contract with WBRC Architects Engineers of Bangor to provide “engineering services related to developing a plan for a new public safety building.” The building would house the city’s police and fire departments and possibly other area agencies. The price tag for the engineering services is $70,000.

Though whether and where to build such a facility remains undetermined, city officials say their “preferred site” is the current baseball field at Ellsworth High School. Citizens who spoke Monday night said they wished it could go elsewhere.

“I don’t think the ball field is the place to put it,” said Jason Carter, one of several residents to voice concern during the City Council meeting. He worried about the proximity to the high school with regard to student safety and wondered where a new baseball field would go, concerns echoed by Joel Horne, Ken Shea and Stephen Shea.

Ken Shea said it would be “terribly expensive” to try and put a new baseball field behind the high school, near the softball field, which was one possibility mentioned by city officials.

City Manager David Cole said the first step in WBRC’s work will be to determine whether the baseball field is a feasible site for such a building. If it is not, the city will have to look at other options. One of the attractive features of the baseball field is that it is city-owned land, meaning the city would not need to pay a business or resident to acquire the land.

Though the cost of a public safety building is unknown, residents who spoke Monday said the city’s tax rate (currently at $17.97 per $1,000 in property valuation) is already too high. A significant building project such as this would only push it higher, they said.

“As far as the taxes go, we all pay them,” said Councilor Gary Fortier, gesturing to his colleagues on the council and expressing empathy to citizens who made the point. “I agree they’re high.”

He said while increased city spending accounts for some of that rise in the tax rate, reduced funding elsewhere (such as what the city gets in revenue sharing from the state) is also a factor. WBRC’s work, Fortier said, “is only for a concept plan” so the city can know what its options are and how best to proceed.

Fire Chief Richard Tupper and Police Chief Glenn Moshier told those in attendance Monday night of the respective challenges their departments currently face at City Hall. They include overcrowding, security concerns, and spaces not designed to meet the needs of public safety agencies in the 21st century.

“It makes for a difficult situation on a whole bunch of levels,” Moshier said.

Stephen Shea said the city could consider building just a new fire station and using the space that would then be freed up in City Hall for the Police Department, thereby helping to address its space needs.

Councilor Steve Beathem said that while taking on a project of this size “has not been looked at lightly,” city officials see it as an important matter that needs to be studied further.

“It’s time to at least look at it and at least develop a plan for it,” he said.

Steve Fuller

Steve Fuller

Reporter at The Ellsworth American,
Steve Fuller worked at The Ellsworth American from 2012 to early 2018. He covered the city of Ellsworth, including the Ellsworth School Department and the city police beat, as well as the towns of Amherst, Aurora, Eastbrook, Great Pond, Mariaville, Osborn, Otis and Waltham. A native of Waldo County, he served as editor of Belfast's Republican Journal prior to joining the American. He lives in Orland.
Steve Fuller

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