Hallowell councilors expect to vote on the future of the city’s fire protection services and to approve the second reading of a $2.36 million bond package during a special meeting Thursday.

The fire services committee, created by Mayor Mark Walker last January to make a recommendation about what Hallowell should do with its fire department, will present a consensus, but not a unanimous report, because the committee could not agree on the best option for the city.

Committee chairman Bob Duplessie, who is out of the country and won’t be at the meeting Thursday, said earlier this month that three committee members — himself included — favor contracting fire services with Augusta, while two members support sharing a station with Farmingdale’s department.

“It’s been a longer process than we wished it would be,” Duplessie said at the Jan. 9 council meeting. “Whatever option they choose will cost more than our current system.”

City Manager Nate Rudy said several other decisions in Hallowell hinge on what the council decides about the fire department, and he said he’s looking forward to the council voting so the city can move forward.

The committee had considered two additional options: building a new fire station adjacent to the Erskine Building at Stevens Commons and building a new station with two per diem firefighters on call around the clock. The merits and costs of those two plans were debated but ultimately weren’t a part of the final discussion.

The Augusta plan, in which Hallowell would disband its current department and contract with the state capital’s fire department, is expected to cost roughly an average of $180,000 per year over 10 years, all for personnel costs. The agreement would add $100.91 in annual property tax based on $182,000 of valuation.

Farmingdale, which is planning to build a state-of-the-art fire station in the next few years, proposed leasing a space in the town’s station with room for two firetrucks. Hallowell and Farmingdale would share the station but operate as autonomous departments.

Under that arrangement, Hallowell could keep its own department, which Fire Chief Mike Grant said includes well-trained and dedicated firefighters. Grant said the two departments often train together and have a good working relationship. One of the downsides to that plan, however, is that leasing or having part-ownership of a building is less tangible than complete ownership of a fire station. Plus, the Farmingdale station is outside of Hallowell’s city limits.

The proposed bond package includes $600,000 earmarked for infrastructure improvements at Stevens Commons, $585,000 for next year’s Water Street reconstruction project and $535,000 for work on rural Hallowell roads.

Much of the opposition to the bond package comes from people who don’t believe the city should give public money to the private Stevens Commons development. Owner and developer Matt Morrill, however, has called the project a public/private partnership since he acquired the 54-acre campus from the state for $215,000 in April.

Morrill argues that the improvements to the property’s road network are necessary for the project to move forward. He estimates turning the campus into a “centerpiece of Hallowell real estate” would cost about $20 million, and he needs to bring in outside investment and other developers to help realize his vision.

Last week, the Planning Board unanimously voted to recommend approval of the Stevens Commons master plan application, but the council will wait until its Feb. 13 meeting to vote. The council will decide to approve, approve with conditions or deny the application, which was submitted Morrill in September.

Jason Pafundi — 621-5663

[email protected]

Twitter: @jasonpafundiKJ

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