HALLOWELL — The Hallowell City Council voted to preserve the city’s Fire Department, but to lease space for it in Farmingdale, during a special meeting Thursday in the City Hall Auditorium.

The council spent almost two hours at the beginning of the meeting hearing from members of the public, who overwhelmingly said they favor the city investing money to keep the department in Hallowell.

Mayor Mark Walker created the fire services committee last January to make a recommendation about what Hallowell should do with its Fire Department. The committee held nine public meetings and hearings, solicited public comments from citizens and businesses and spoke to representatives from fire departments in Hallowell, Farmingdale, Augusta, Manchester and more.

After considering several options, including restoring Hallowell’s Second Street fire station and building a new station at Stevens Commons as part of a larger public safety facility, before narrowing the field to just two choices: contracting with Augusta or leasing space in Farmingdale’s yet-to-be built station.

Councilors voted to lease space from Farmingdale. The Hallowell Fire Department will remain autonomous while leasing the space.

The next step, according to City Manager Nate Rudy, is to negotiate specific terms of the lease agreement with Farmingdale officials.

Several people spoke during the meeting and asked the council to consider keeping Hallowell’s Fire Department and building a new station within the city limits. That plan was one of the original dozen or so the committee considered, but it was deemed not financially feasible to move forward in the process. The council, however, was free to choose an option outside of the two recommendations by the fire services committee.

An 18-page report by the committee stated Hallowell needs to replace a firetruck in the next year and another truck within five years. Like most communities in Maine, the report stated, Hallowell has seen its number of firefighters dwindle over the past 10 years. There are currently 13 firefighters on the active roster, and the report stated Hallowell should have 22 to 24 firefighters.

The deal with Augusta would have included services from that city’s entire department, including full-time firefighters, trucks and equipment, safety inspections, dispatch services and emergency medical services. Augusta has 50 full-time firefighters, 48 of whom have paramedic training and certification.

Augusta has invested more than $15 million in a new fire station on Leighton Road and upgrades to the Hartford Station, and more than $1.5 million in two new fire engines to be delivered this year and next year.

The agreement, according to the committee report, would have cost Hallowell “$180,000 per year averaged over 10 years and would add $101 to the average annual property tax” in the city.

The Farmingdale option is cheaper than contracting with Augusta. It would include an autonomous department that would keep the traditional notion of each municipality having its own fire services, the committee report said. The annual cost would be about $118,000, or an increase of about $53 in average annual property tax. That cost includes replacing a truck this year with a used vehicle more than 10 years old.

“It’s important to me that we don’t get into a situation where we were leasing forever,” committee member Dan Davis said.

The committee’s majority thought it was important to include the Farmingdale option with the costs including replacing a truck this year with a much newer or brand-new truck. Under this plan, the annual costs were projected to be about $157,000 per year, or an increase of about $84 in average property tax.

Jason Pafundi — 621-5663

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Twitter: @jasonpafundiKJ