Courthouse slowly reopening to public

Thu, 05/21/2020 - 8:00am

On May 18, Lincoln County Courthouse’s doors opened to the Registries of Deeds and Probate for people who made appointments. The courts are open Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 12 to 4 p.m. and by appointment during those same hours.

County officials are requiring that, prior to entering, visitors have their temperature taken, answer screening questions, wear a mask and not bring bags into the facility.  County Administrator Carrie Kipfer updated commissioners May 19 about efforts to provide limited public access to other departments. “We had our first visitor yesterday, and everything went fine,” she said. “We’re anticipating more of this to start. We’ve had some surveyors waiting very patiently to do some research so I can see an uptick in visitors.”

Kipfer expects by month’s end more public access for deeds and probate will likely be available with either increased hours or more days. County staffers who have worked remotely for several weeks are also transitioning back into the offices. “We have enough room to keep employees apart and they are required to wear masks.” Employees are being equipped with cleaning and personal protection gear. Plexiglass screens are being installed in probate and deeds to protect staff. “It’s all been pretty low-key, but a success,” Kipfer said. 

She also reported on sheriff’s department efforts to expand access. The department recently developed a plan allowing the public to enter probation, parole, addiction resource center and pre-trial offices starting June 1. The sheriff’s office is bringing its staff back and working toward full-time hours. The recycling center is working every day at a nearly full schedule. Employees will soon return to the planning office, but the public won’t be allowed. “If you need to meet with them then you should make an appointment,” Kipfer said. “The meeting room is large enough to keep everyone far away enough.”

Some departments are not ready for expanded public access. The multi-purpose room, recently outfitted with video cameras, will host a probate hearing via Zoom. The communication center will remain locked down. Kipfer explained the center is using the lobby area to minimize public contact. Law enforcement officials are allowed in the lobby to drop paperwork in the window slot.

“It’s slow and steady, and everything’s relatively calm, and I hope it stays that way,” Kipfer said. 

In other action, commissioners received two bids for a tax anticipation note. Commissioners conditionally accepted Bath Savings Bank’s bid with a 0.94% interest rate for $3.5 million with no early repayment penalty. The First proposed a 1.45% rate with no early repayment penalty or fees. County officials weren’t sure if Bath Savings Bank’s bid included fees so they conditionally accepted it, pending finding out if all fees were waived.

Commissioners approved final payment of the auditing contract with Berry, Talbot and Royer. The county had a three-year contract paying $5,000 per year for services. The contract expired, and commissioners approved putting a new contract out to bid. Kipfer is hoping to receive proposals for a three to five-year term. 

Chief Deputy Rand Maker filled in for Sheriff Todd Brackett. Maker requested authorization to pay $5,595.42 to install three repeaters in cruisers. The repeaters boost portable radio signals when deputies are outside the cruiser. Commissioners approved the purchase in December, and two repeaters have been installed. Later in the meeting, commissioners approved buying two Toughbooks laptop computers for deputy sheriff use. Commissioners will pay $4,806.79 from the county’s information technology reserve account. 

County Emergency Management Agency Director Casey Stevens announced the department received funds from a recently modified federal grant. The EMA Performance Grant had $77,000 left over from fiscal year 2018. So federal officials sought requests for any leftover projects. Stevens applied seeking funding for an already purchased pickup truck. He announced the county received $14,000.

Commissioners approved three new hires. Edythe Dersham will take a bookkeeping job in county government. She worked previously for the Lincoln County Probate Court. Denise Mills was hired as the new administrative assistant. 2020 University of Maine graduate Natalie Thompson will intern for Lincoln County Regional Planning Commission. Thompson is enrolled at the University of Southern Maine’s graduate school. She is part of an intern program sponsored by USM’s Margaret Chase Smith School of Public Policy. Commissioners also approved Elswyth Strassberger’s resignation. Strassberger was hired in August 2019. 

Commissioners meet next at 9 a.m. Tuesday, June 1.