HALLOWELL — Mayor Mark Walker called 2016 a year of significant changes while looking ahead to a busy 2017 during his annual address at Hallowell’s inauguration ceremony Tuesday.

In the past 12 months, Hallowell has had three different city managers and three code enforcement officers and has seen four council positions change. Walker said it has been a challenging year in many ways.

“We also have a new city clerk (Dianne Polky) for the first time in 31 years, and our fire chief (Mike Grant) has announced his retirement after 31 years,” Walker told a crowd of more than 40 people in the City Hall Auditorium. “Councilor Diano Circo was sworn in at this same ceremony a year ago, and he now has the third-longest tenure of anyone on the council.”

Before looking ahead to 2017, Walker highlighted several important achievements in Hallowell during the past year including the approval of an amended city charter that had not been revised in more than 60 years, the announcement of the final design plan for the Water Street reconstruction and the beginning of the redevelopment of the Stevens School property, which was acquired by developer Matt Morrill from the state in April.

Walker said the new council will be thrown right into the fire at their first meeting Jan. 9. The parking committee will present the council a final report on how to improve parking in downtown, and Walker said the report includes proposed solutions that will be implemented before next year’s Water Street reconstruction.

The council will also have to decide on the city’s fire protection services. After fire services committee meetings and public meetings and workshops, Walker said a decision is close.

“It’s not easy, and the issue has been around for several decades,” the mayor said. “But the committee has developed fact-based reports to help the council with their decision on how best to provide fire protection services to Hallowell’s citizens.”

If that wasn’t enough for the first meeting of the new year, Walker said the council will also hear the first reading of a bond proposal, the first substantial bond in about 10 years, to help pay for the Water Street project, among other costs.

Walker said 2017 shapes up to be a year for many necessary decisions in Hallowell and said one of the benefits to all the changes in personnel is fresh eyes resulting in a fresh way of doing business within the council and the city.

In addition to regular business, Walker said he wants to form a marijuana task force to review city ordinances and determine the best means to comply with the new state law legalizing recreational marijuana, which officially goes into effect at the end of this month.

“I want to make sure there is a clear message that this is not to seek a moratorium or prohibition,” Walker said. “But Hallowell has attractive store fronts, retail space and is a destination, so we must plan appropriately.”

Walker also wants specific, concrete action on regionalization among municipalities in Kennebec County. He said he believes more can be done to reduce the cost of city government and to maximize revenues by bringing additional visitors to the region.

“Hallowell is a destination, and people drive here to enjoy our shops, great restaurants, our culture and vibrant music scene,” he said. Walker wondered if Hallowell could support a water taxi along the Kennebec River between Augusta and Gardiner, and he thinks it would be a great mode of transportation, especially during the Water Street reconstruction.

Before the mayor’s address, the city honored outgoing councilors Phil Lindley, Alan Stearns and Kate DuFour. Stearns and DuFour did not seek re-election after four and two years on the council respectively, and Lindley was defeated by Kara Walker in November after 15 years on the council.

Walker was sworn in along with former Hallowell code enforcement officer Maureen Aucoin-Giroux and former councilor Lynn Irish, who both ran unopposed.

City Manager Nate Rudy, who started in June after the unexpected March death of Stefan Pakulski, did not appoint a new fire chief to replace the retiring Grant. Rudy said Grant has agreed to stay on in an interim basis until a decision is made about the city’s fire protection services.

Police Chief Eric Nason was reappointed for the final time because the new charter stipulates that certain positions that fall under Rudy’s management do not need annual approval by the council.

Jason Pafundi — 621-5663

[email protected]

Twitter: @jasonpafundiKJ

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