Plans call for a new York County Courthouse to be built on this site at 511 Elm St. in Biddeford, and a committee has approved a building for the York County District Attorney’s Office adjacent to the judicial center there. ED PIERCE/Journal Tribune

ALFRED — A bill that would provide a mechanism for York County to borrow money, and pay it back, to construct a building for the York County District Attorney’s Office adjacent to the new Biddeford Judicial Center got a green light from the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee.

Both Democrats and Republicans on the committee voted “ought to pass,” on Tuesday, but each offered an amendment, which means there will be more work on the proposal.

“We’re optimistic for a good resolution,” said York County Manager Greg Zinser.

The alternative to a location adjacent to the new York Judicial Center is continuing to house the York County District Attorney’s Office 12 miles away, at the York County Court House in Alfred. County government officials have said that would outstrip any efficiencies gained by the state’s decision to consolidate the county’s four courts.

The York County District Attorney’s Office has a staff of more than 40 people, including assistant district attorneys, victim witness advocates and support staff.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. David Woodsome, R-Waterboro, would provide up to $6 million in Maine Government Facilities Authority securities to construct a building on the new courthouse lot, connected to the new court building. The county would pay the bonds. The bill calls for the three district courthouses in Biddeford, Springvale and York to be turned over to the county, which the county would sell to pay for the bond.

A public hearing a week ago saw support for the relocation of the district attorney’s office.

“Having the District Attorney’s Office close to the court house is obviously important,” said Woodsome at the public hearing. “If this legislation does not pass, the office will have to be 12 miles away from the courthouse, creating a logistical nightmare for many.”

Also submitting testimony in favor were York County Commission Chairman Richard Dutremble and Zinser.

State Court Administrator James Glessner also spoke in favor of the proposal, with one caveat. He said the Maine Judicial Branch is opposed to the cost of an architect and construction manager included at the state’s expense .

The vote by the Judiciary Committee showed agreement with that sentiment.

“The vote out of the Judiciary committee was nine in favor of ‘ought to pass as amended,’” said Rep. Donna Bailey, D-Saco, House chair of the Judiciary Committee. “The amendment was to remove the language that would have required the state to pay for the architect and construction manager for the new building.”

Bailey said there were three votes in the minority who voted “ought to pass,” also striking the architecture and construction manager provision, with the additional change that only two of the three existing court houses would be transferred to the county.

Zinser said the provision that all three courthouses is necessary for the proposal to work. Zinser said he’s encouraged by the committee vote.

“We’re trying to put a solution on the table that wouldn’t otherwise be offered,” said Zinser of the relocation proposal. “No one has any other solutions.”

Woodsome on Thursday said the amended versions will go to the Senate for a vote and then on to the House.

In November 2016, a court site selection commission made up of legislators, law enforcement, attorneys, the judiciary and others chose the site on U.S. Route 1 in Biddeford for a new, consolidated York County Courthouse. The $65 million project will result in the closure of the three district courts in Biddeford, Springvale and York and the York County Superior Court, which sits at the county-owned courthouse in Alfred. There is no word on when ground will be broken for the project.

The proposal for a new building for the District Attorney’s Office attached to the new courthouse emerged after discussions between county government and the judiciary  over the course of a year, Zinser said.

The bill’s lead sponsor in the House of Representatives is Anne-Marie Mastraccio, D-Sanford.

“It makes sense, they need to be close,” said Mastraccio of the prosecutors and support staff.

Mastraccio has resubmitted a bill heard last session that would form a committee to help decide what happens to the three district court buildings once the new consolidated courthouse is built. So far, no public hearings or work sessions have been scheduled for Mastraccio’s bill, L.D. 391, which has been referred to the State and Local Government Committee.

— Senior Staff Writer Tammy Wells can be contacted at 780-9016 or [email protected]

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