BANGOR, Maine — An evangelical church renting space in the former YMCA most likely would be displaced if Penobscot County is successful in its attempt to take possession of the property to relieve chronic overcrowding at the nearby jail.
The Rev. Bobby Bledsoe, pastor of CityReach Church, which rents space at 127 Hammond St., said Tuesday that his congregation “would not go down without our voice being heard.”
County officials did not inform the church of its plans, he said Tuesday.
Penobscot County Commissioners on Tuesday set March 21 as the date for a public hearing to determine whether the county will use eminent domain to take the former YMCA building and parking lot.
The hearing will be held during the commissioners’ regular meeting, which begins at 9 a.m. each Tuesday.
Peter Baldacci, commission chairman, said tentative plans include moving the current cramped intake area, nonviolent female inmates and the holding cells for inmates in jail fewer than 72 hours into the former YMCA, once it is remodeled.
Commissioners declined Tuesday to say the amount they agreed to pay for the property or how much they expected renovations would cost.
Baldacci estimated that the cost of building a new jail would be more than $40 million and that the cost of boarding out inmates because of overcrowding at the jail was expected soon to cost between $1 million and $1.5 million per year.
“We have a population crisis here,” County Administrator Bill Collins told the commissioners. “Today, we have 186 inmates — 163 males and 23 females. Forty-seven of those are boarded out with 28 at the Cumberland County Jail [in Portland] at a cost of $70 per day, per inmate.”
The Penobscot County Jail is a 157-bed facility, Sheriff Troy Morton, who did not attend Tuesday’s meeting, has said.
The commissioners did not discuss Tuesday renting out any of the building if it is taken by eminent domain. Collins said in the afternoon that the county could only rent space to nonprofit organizations or another government entity. It rents a portion of the former District Court building to the United States Postal Service.
“We would have to examine our needs to see whether it made sense to rent,” Collins said.
Bledsoe’s CityReach ministry, which is committed to being in or near the city’s downtown, was founded about three years ago, he said. It has been holding services three days per week at the former YMCA for about two years.
The pastor said Tuesday that his congregation had offered to pay $800,000 for the building. He did not say why the purchase had not come to fruition.
“We are very invested in the building and the community,” he said. “We have put about $200,000 in renovations into the building. It is being used for the betterment of the community.”
County officials previously have said that overcrowding at the jail is because, in part, of the opiate crisis.
A major mission of Bledsoe’s congregation is offering a faith-based recovery program to people in Bangor.
“Our ministry has 50 men and women in recovery now,” he said Tuesday. “We are in the business of seeing people set free. We don’t need more people locked up.”
The building is owned by the estate of William Buxton, who bought the building in 2013 with plans to open a denturist school. He later abandoned those plans and died in 2016.
The estate accepted the county’s offer, but the bank that holds the mortgage refused to accept it, Baldacci said Tuesday. The original mortgage on the property was for $1.3 million, but it could not be determined Monday or Tuesday how much is still owed to TD Bank.
Bowman Constructors of Newport obtained a lien on the property on Nov. 3, 2015, according to information filed in the Penobscot County Registry of Deeds.
If the commissioners vote to take the building by eminent domain, the county would become its owner. The only thing left to fight about would be whether the county’s offer was for the “fair market value” of the property, according to Baldacci, a Bangor attorney. The price paid for the old YMCA but not its ownership could be contested.
According to an online dictionary of legal terms, to obtain the building through eminent domain, the county must prove the following:
— The structure and land are private property.
— It must be taken because it can not be obtained any other way.
— The property will be for public use.
— Fair market value will be paid for the property.
In December 2010, the YWCA and YMCA in Bangor merged and moved into the Second Street YWCA facility. The old YMCA building was put on the market.
The county considered purchasing the former YMCA in September 2011, when the asking price was $725,000.
The property was purchased the following month by Greg Lovley for $370,000. He put it on the market in January 2012 for $625,000. Buxton bought it the following summer, but the purchase price was not made public.
The 46-year-old building and property were assessed at $698,700 by the city’s tax assessing office for the fiscal year that ends June 30, 2017. The property tax totaled $15,720.75.
The property tax bills on the property have been paid on time, according the city treasurer’s office. The next bill is due in March.