The Hallowell Fire Services Committee is meeting Saturday with the hope of coming to a decision on a recommendation for the future of the city’s fire protection services.

Mayor Mark Walker said he hopes the committee will make their recommendation to the City Council at its November meeting.

For more than a year, the committee has sifted through surveys, studies and data while trying to determine what is the best course of action for the city’s fire protection services. In late August, City Manager Nate Rudy presented the committee with nine options to consider based on numbers provided by the Augusta, Farmingdale and Hallowell fire departments, and the committee has whittled the list down to three.

“We have refined these numbers to get what we hope would be the best proposals from these entities that would reflect the most accurate cost projections of each proposal,” Rudy said.

The options included contracting with Augusta and disbanding the Hallowell department, leasing space in Farmingdale’s station while operating an autonomous department and constructing a new public safety facility at Stevens Commons that would also house the police department.

The Augusta proposal, Rudy said, would include Hallowell receiving the same service to its residents as the Augusta Fire Department provides to residents of the capital city. Rudy said Augusta envisions the contract starting Jan. 1, 2017, if Hallowell decides to go that route.

“It’s important to understand what we’d be provided by Augusta versus what would be provided by the other two options,” Rudy said. Some may argue that Hallowell shouldn’t pay for services it receives for free under a mutual aid agreement, but Rudy cautions that Augusta is under no obligation to provide mutual aid.

During the last committee meeting earlier this month, Fire Chief Mike Grant proposed building a new public safety building at the Stevens Commons campus without a per diem fire department. Estimates show the plan would cost about $3.7 million over 10 years and would add $141.14 in annual tax per $182,000 of valuation.

City officials estimate that constructing a new facility would cost about $1.6 million, but Grant thinks that number is too high. The committee is expecting more accurate numbers from Grant and Stevens Commons’ owner and developer Matt Morrill at Saturday’s meeting.

Morrill envisions constructing a freestanding fire station/garage adjacent to the campus’ Erskine Building as the first part of a multi-phase project. After that, renovation of the Erskine Building could include living quarters for firefighters, a space for the Hallowell Police Department and possibly a community center for use by residents of the Stevens Commons development or the public.

Grant believes keeping a full-time, volunteer department in Hallowell is the best choice. The proposed contract with Augusta would cost a certain amount per year for 10 years before it would be up for renegotiation, and there is no way to predict whether the cost would go up, go down or stay the same, Grant said.

Under the Farmingdale plan, Hallowell would lease space inside Farmingdale’s Maine Avenue station while continuing to operate a separate department. Farmingdale is planning to build a new station at an as yet undetermined location sometime in the next few years.

Sharing a station with Farmingdale has its drawbacks, Grant has said. The Farmingdale station is almost 3 miles from Hallowell’s town center, and Grant has said he isn’t comfortable making investments in another town while Hallowell loses its own station.

Rudy said the committee has a tough choice to make because there are obvious pros and cons with each option.

“You’ve got to weigh the cost versus what level of protection you get,” Rudy said. “What the committee cares about is the quality and speed of the response and the capacity to fight a fire once on site.”

One option considered at the beginning of the process was reconstructing the Second Street station, which is more than 180 years old. Almost immediately, however, that idea was seen as cost-prohibitive and not in the best long-term interest of the city. The station is not built to house modern fire equipment, and renovating the station would cost more than $600,000, which doesn’t make sense because of all the other money the city will be spending on the Stevens Commons and Water Street projects.

“This has been a very difficult thing to do,” Rudy said. “Our efforts recently have been on making sure we have the most accurate cost projections.”

Rudy said the plan is for another meeting to be held in early November to allow more discussion and public comment before the committee makes its recommendation to the City Council.

Ultimately, Rudy said, the committee needs to make an educated, fact-based decision.

“This is a marketplace of ideas, so let’s see what idea makes the most sense,” he said.

Jason Pafundi — 621-5663

[email protected]

Twitter: @jasonpafundiKJ

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