HALLOWELL — At least one well-connected Hallowell resident disagreed with the decision by the City Council to save the Hallowell Fire Department and lease space in a yet-to-be-built fire station in Farmingdale.

Stephen Langsdorf, who also is the attorney for the city of Augusta, said at Tuesday’s council meeting that he has serious concerns about not only the decision itself but also the way the council came to its decision.

“I couldn’t understand it at all and found it to be very, very confusing,” Langsdorf said by phone Wednesday morning.

The council voted unanimously late last month after a 13-month review process by the city’s fire services committee to keep the city’s more than 200-year-old department. Langsdorf said he and “many other people were shocked the decision was made so quickly during one council meeting.”

During Tuesday night’s council meeting, Langsdorf said the city of Augusta has concerns about continuing to be the primary fire service for Hallowell without being compensated. Under terms of a mutual aid agreement, there are cooperative relationships between the fire departments, and he said Augusta officials’ concerns related to the “lack of mutuality.”

Langsdorf said he would have the same opinion if he wasn’t Augusta’s attorney, but because of his position, he was privy to conversations and discussion he thought were critical to share with Hallowell councilors.

Augusta City Manager William Bridgeo, however, said Langsdorf wasn’t speaking on behalf of the city of Augusta.

Bridgeo said he recently reviewed the 16-page report from the fire services committee, a committee on which three of the five members recommended contracting for fire services with Augusta. The city manager said Augusta is far from the point of pulling its mutual aid agreement with Hallowell, but he does think it’s appropriate to look at some data.

“If it turns out that it’s standard practice for the mutual aid entity (Augusta) to be the first on scene and to be providing the bulk of the resources every time, then I think there’s a fair question to be asked,” Bridgeo said. “The taxpayers of that community can ask whether it’s putting more a financial burden on them than you’d typically find in a mutual aid agreement.”

Bridgeo and Hallowell City Manager Nate Rudy are meeting Thursday, but Bridgeo said the meeting is more about Augusta officials getting to know Hallowell’s new interim fire chief, Jim Owens, than having a serious discussion about the long-standing mutual aid agreement between the two cities.

Langsdorf, though, thinks many people in Hallowell have taken for granted Augusta’s position as a first responder by saying publicly that Augusta was always first on scene to put out any fires.

“The Augusta Fire Department has professional firefighters with up-to-date equipment and training and are investing $6 million in their main station that the Augusta taxpayers pay for,” Langsdorf said. “Augusta is doing something for Hallowell, which in turn is supposed to be providing assistance to Augusta.”

The agreement with Farmingdale hasn’t been signed and is contingent on Farmingdale voters approving, during their Town Meeting in June, construction of the new fire station. Langsdorf said the council should reconsider its decision to spurn Augusta.

“An issue this important should really be put on hold until we know all the ramifications of it, and it would be a really good decision to be made by the people,” said Langsdorf, who said he may petition the council if they choose to not reconsider their choice. “I don’t think the decision is in any way representative of what most people feel about the situation.”

Hallowell Mayor Mark Walker said the council didn’t rush to make its decision, but rather the decision was made by an involved and concerned council that worked diligently and listened to all sides and all the information that was presented.

“I warned the council they weren’t going to please everybody, and I think they accepted that,” Walker said. “I disagree with Steve, because this was a rational, well-reasoned decision that just wasn’t going to please everybody.”

While Walker said he wasn’t surprised Langsdorf and others were concerned, he said he didn’t expect the concerns Langsdorf said he was relaying from Augusta officials.

“They knew this was a process with a 13-month study,” he said. “It was a close call that went against them, but I didn’t expect to hear the reaction we got (from Steve).”

Walker said fire services will remain on the council’s agenda for the next few months, but he isn’t sure the council will reconsider its decision.

“My reading of the council is that they made a decision and they’re going to stick by it,” he said.

Jason Pafundi — 621-5663

[email protected]

Twitter: @jasonpafundiKJ

 

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