A Hallowell resident collected enough signatures on a petition that would force the City Council to reconsider its decision to save the city’s fire department and lease space in a yet-to-be-built fire station in Farmingdale.

It took Stephen Langsdorf a week to gather well over the 216 signatures required by the city charter, which he helped amend last year as the chairman of the city’s charter commission. City Clerk Diane Polky and City Manager Nate Rudy said they expect to verify the validity of the petition and its 288 signatures by the end of next week.

“I felt pretty optimistic that I was going to be able to get the signatures,” Langsdorf said. He said he walked more than 25 miles according to his fitness tracker to gather the signatures for the petition, and he only had a week to do it because he miscalculated when the council made its original decision and when any petition would be due.

Since the council voted to keep an autonomous fire department while sharing space in Farmingdale’s new station in late January, Langsdorf has publicly stated his opposition to not only the decision, but also the way the council made its decision.

Langsdorf, who is also Augusta’s city attorney, didn’t think the council took enough time to consider every option, including contracting fire protection services with Augusta, and didn’t hold enough public hearings.

A number of people expressed concern that the council meeting and vote took place without the fire services committee chairman, Bob Duplessie, in attendance, Langsdorf said. Others, he said, were surprised at the speed with which the council came to their decision.

“Many, many people said the decision at the council level was made too quickly, and they said they expected some sort of public forum or hearing that was publicized so that the council could hear more accurately what people thought about this,” Langsdorf said.

Throughout his time knocking on doors over the last week, Langsdorf said he came across person after person who opposed the Farmingdale plan, though he said most of the people he spoke with don’t think the decision needs to be decided during a special election.

“I think most people are against the Farmingdale plan, and they would much prefer the council took the option of rescinding (their decision) and then working on it further,” he said. “They said they really just didn’t like the Farmingdale plan.”

There is some confusion about what the next step would be if Langsdorf’s petition is verified. Under terms of the city charter, the city council must hold a public hearing within 30 days of a petition’s submission, and Polky said the hearing could be held during a regularly scheduled or special council meeting. The council’s next meeting is March 13, but Polky isn’t sure there is enough time to give the required public notice to get this issue on the agenda.

Following the public hearing, according to the charter, the council can decide to put the question to a referendum vote or decide to rescind the decision in question, which Langsdorf hopes would lead to a more thorough and public process.

He said there were very few people he encountered who support the council’s decision to move the fire department to Farmingdale, and there were a lot of people who supported an agreement with Augusta.

“There were also a lot of people who support having some sort of fire services in Hallowell, and those are not necessarily inconsistent with each other,” Langsdorf said.

Langsdorf said he thinks some sort of compromise of keeping an appropriate level of fire services in Hallowell while continuing to work with Augusta as the professional first responders appears to make the most sense.

“What I’ve been able to determine is that some level of fire services in Hallowell and working with Augusta would be a plan that most of the people that I spoke to would think would be a good plan,” he said.

The petition includes the signatures of seven former mayors of Hallowell, including Bob Stubbs and Rep. Charlotte Warren, D-Hallowell, who was mayor from 2009-2013 before being elected to the Legislature. Former councilors Kate Dufour and Alan Stearns also signed.

Stearns said he was surprised the council came to such a quick decision after a 13-month fire services committee process.

“If a couple of people in the know on the inside of Hallowell were shocked about a decision, I can only imagine how the general public felt,” Stearns said.

Stearns said he’s worked with Duplessie for years and said he thinks the council needs to take a longer look at the fire services committee’s report.

Councilor George LaPointe, who said he supported the Augusta plan yet made the motion to approve the Farmingdale plan so the council decision would be unanimous, said he doesn’t think the council misjudged the community.

“The council made a decision based on the information they had before them, and there was a fair amount of input relative to the amount of input we get on any issue,” LaPointe said. “They voted the way they thought was correct.”

LaPointe said the council will have to look at the information again, including the fire services report and the cost implications of different options before deciding the next step.

“If we have a public hearing on it, we’ll listen to the people who are there, because there’s really nothing more we can do,” he said. “Our actions aren’t solely dictated by public input, but we’ll play it out when we take that into consideration.”

Jason Pafundi — 621-5663

[email protected]

Twitter: @jasonpafundiKJ

Comments are not available on this story.

filed under:

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.