HALLOWELL — Nate Rudy said his first six months as Hallowell city manager were busy and the next six months will be even busier.

Rudy became Hallowell’s fifth city manager since October 2015 when he was hired in late May after leading a nonprofit economic development organization in Waterville.

Michael Starn left Hallowell to pursue other opportunities and was replaced by Stefan Pakulski, who died unexpectedly in March. Mayor Mark Walker served as city manager for a week before current Councilor Maureen Aucoin-Giroux took over as interim city manager. Rudy came aboard after a search process picked him from among three finalists, who also included Aucoin-Giroux.

In the next several months, Rudy is expected to be involved in decisions that will shape Hallowell for the next several decades. He said his experience of working in community economic development in Gardiner and Waterville has helped him better navigate his first few months at City Hall.

“These aren’t new concepts for me; it’s just new applications,” Rudy said Thursday in his office. “The challenge has been recognizing every community has its own set of values and its own goals.”

Multiple times a week, Rudy attends meetings with various Hallowell elected officials, committee members and community leaders. He’s constantly learning about what makes the people of Hallowell tick, and he said the support he’s received so far has been invaluable.

“(Everyone) has been very good, very welcoming, very gracious and very supportive of me,” he said. “The staff has been exceedingly helpful and open with me about the issues and goals they have.”

Rudy said one of the biggest challenges he’s faced in the first six months is Hallowell seeming much smaller than it really is. There are lots of moving parts and lots of opportunities Rudy would like to pursue for the city, but he said the city needs to be thoughtful and prudent about which opportunities it moves on and which should sit for a while.

“I’m really ambitious for Hallowell, and I’d like to do everything; but we have only around 10 full-time employees, so we need to prioritize,” Rudy said.

Part of prioritizing is sequencing, the city manager said, and he’s been working with the council to sequence the decisions that need to be made soon to put the city in better position to tackle decisions around Water Street reconstruction and the Stevens Commons redevelopment.

The redevelopment of the 54-acre Stevens Commons campus is a top priority for the city. Developer Matt Morrill acquired the property from the state in April for $215,000, and since then, he’s submitted a master plan, begun some improvements to infrastructure and started to connect with outside developers and possible tenants.

But Morrill needs the city’s help to turn the campus into the centerpiece of Hallowell real estate he envisions. He’s asked the city for $600,000 to help with propertywide infrastructure improvements to the roads and sidewalks, which he said would be the kicking-off point to begin turning the campus into a mixed-use development at the top of Winthrop Street.

Rudy said his job is to be a bridge between where the city stands and where Morrill stands and to figure out what can be worked out between the two parties. There has been some public opposition to putting taxpayer money into a private development, but Rudy thinks that opposition is misplaced.

“I think the council has a different understanding of what an investment at Stevens Commons means than the folks who are labeling it as public funding for a private investment,” he said. “I think council’s position is that these are infrastructure improvements for community economic development.”

While the bond issue ultimately will be decided by a council vote and then a referendum, Rudy’s involvement is crucial. He said it’s his job to make sure everyone involved in the decision-making process has all the facts to make an informed choice.

“We’re going to continue to host these public meetings and discussions and continue to educate people about what the investment of city money really means to a 10- or 20-year vision for local economic development,” he said. Not everyone attends the meetings, but Rudy said city officials are trying everything they can to share all the information so everyone in Hallowell is on the same page.

Rudy said trends show people are moving from western and northern Maine to the southeastern part of the state and toward the coast, which is an opportunity for Hallowell. Framing any bonding as a 20-year investment in community economic development can help the city be a competitive option when people are deciding where to invest their lives.

“When all these other communities are pulling out all the stops to attract new residents and businesses, we need to look at these things, like bonding and Water Street and Stevens Commons, as long-term investments in our future,” Rudy said.

Rudy said people are attracted to Hallowell because of its downtown culture, which has a lot of the same things that draw people to Portland. It’s part of the reason why the city is proposing to invest close to $600,000 toward next year’s reconstruction of Water Street. Not only will it repair decades-old utilities under the busy main street, but it also sends a message that the people of Hallowell are invested in the long-term success of their city.

“We need to send a clear message to ourselves and a clear message about what we want to do,” Rudy said, “and then we need to project that out to everyone else.”

The other pressing decision for the council to make, hopefully sooner rather than later, Rudy said, is about the future of fire protection services.

The Second Street fire station has long been unable to handle what is required for a 21st-century fire department, and the city has been trying for at least a decade to come up with the best plan for future fire protection in Hallowell.

Mayor Mark Walker created a fire services committee last year, which has been reviewing studies, conducting research and talking with and listening to anyone with an opinion in the hopes of recommending a solution to the council. But that recommendation hasn’t come yet, and it may never, because the committee hasn’t been able to reach a consensus on what the best plan for the city would be.

Three committee members think contracting fire services with Augusta and disbanding the Hallowell department is the best idea, while two other members think sharing a station with Farmingdale’s Fire Department while operating an autonomous department is the right choice. Both sides are expected to present their findings to the council at Monday’s meeting, and Rudy hopes a council decision isn’t too far behind.

“It’s been a very hard conversation for a very long time, and I hope that we can make a decision soon,” he said. “So many other decisions the city has to make hinge on the cost of fire services and the disposition of the fire station itself.”

Jason Pafundi — 621-5663

[email protected]

Twitter: @jasonpafundiKJ

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under:

Kennebec Journal & Morning Sentinel news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.