ELLSWORTH, Maine – A city council and a group of local commercial property owners have filed a lawsuit against the city over the choice of a new location for its police station.
The city’s decision to lease a former hardware store on the High Street violates the city’s procurement policy of soliciting bids for supplies, services, materials and equipment costing more than $15,000, according to the plaintiffs. The projected combined cost of upgrading the 416 High St. building and leasing it for 20 years is nearly $4 million.
A proposal to lease the building was presented to the City Council at its October 17 meeting and they voted 5-2 to sign the lease. Councilors Steve O’Halloran and Casey Hanson voted against the proposal, saying they had concerns about the likely cost of renovating and renting the former hardware store.
O’Halloran is one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit filed Tuesday in Hancock County Superior Court. Other plaintiffs include Union River Associates Realty Holdings LLC, Chase Inc. and Willey & Grant LLC, all of which own commercial real estate in Ellsworth.
Plaintiffs allege that the city failed to properly publicly announce the proposal before the council voted on it. No details of the city’s plans to lease the building were released as of Oct. 14, three days before the council voted on the matter.
“The public interest of Ellsworth residents requires that Defendant Ellsworth follow its termination requirements and formal bidding process to complete a twenty-year municipal building lease and public improvements contract,” the plaintiffs wrote in the lawsuit.
Plaintiffs have also asked the court to declare the lease the city signed Nov. 7 “null and void” and issue an injunction preventing the city from proceeding with the lease, or nearly $870,000 to earn improvements to the building.
Glenn Moshier, who serves as Ellsworth City Manager and Police Chief, did not respond Wednesday asking for comment on the complaint.
Brett Baber, a Bangor attorney representing O’Halloran and the property owners in the lawsuit, said the city violated public notice requirements by being too vague with the listed agenda item at the Oct. 17 council meeting has been. The article only said “discussion and possible actions to relocate the Ellsworth Police Department,” but nothing about where it might move or how much money it might cost, he said.
Baber said he believes little, if any, work has been done to improve the site. He said he hopes a judge will soon issue an injunction on the project.
“I would hope to see early next week,” Baber said.
Despite complaints and criticism from others about how the rental decision came about, many local residents and city officials appear to support moving the police station away from City Hall.
The concept of relocating either the police or fire departments has been discussed by city officials for years, but until the city’s Public Safety Planning Committee presented the current lease proposal, none of those discussions resulted in a concrete plan.
As the city has held back on deciding what to do for its police and fire departments, current police department offices have become cramped, making working conditions below average, according to Police Capt. Shawn Willey.
There is limited parking in front of City Hall for patrol cars and a severe lack of storage space in the police station offices. Officers occasionally have to process and test confiscated drugs in the cramped kitchen, and there’s little privacy to conduct interviews on sensitive topics, Willey said.