HALLOWELL — The city clerk has validated a petition that will force the City Council to revisit its decision to save the Hallowell Fire Department and lease space in a yet-to-be-built fire station in Farmingdale.

Stephen Langsdorf, a Hallowell resident who also is the Augusta city attorney, submitted last week a petition with 288 signatures, and City Clerk Diane Polky confirmed the petition’s validity Wednesday afternoon. There were 271 valid signatures, she said, but she didn’t say why 17 signatures were deemed invalid.

“I am pleased the city has verified the petitions and look forward to the public hearing,” Langsdorf said Thursday via email.

There had been some confusion as to the process moving forward, but City Manager Nate Rudy tried to clarify the steps by citing the city charter, which was amended last year by a committee chaired by Langsdorf.

The charter states a public hearing must be held within 30 days of the day the petition was filed — Feb. 24. Rudy said he is working with Mayor Mark Walker and the council to schedule the public hearing, which must occur before midnight March 26. The council then has 30 days to either rescind its vote in support of the Farmingdale plan or put the decision in the hands of the voters via a referendum question.

The council has a regular meeting scheduled for March 13, but it is unclear if there is enough time to provide public notice of the hearing to add it to the agenda. Polky said she thinks the council will end up meeting three times in March.

Hallowell has been wrestling with the decision over its Fire Department and its nearly 190-year-old fire station for decades, and Walker appointed a committee to research the department, the services it provides to Hallowell and potential alternatives for the city. A study done several years ago determined the current station wasn’t structurally sound enough to support a modern fire department, and Hallowell has been considering several options for the city’s department for many years.

After a 13-month process that included more than a dozen public meetings, hearings and workshops, the committee, minus chairman Bob Duplessie, who was out of town, submitted its final report to the council during a special meeting Jan. 26. Three of the committee members recommended disbanding the Hallowell Fire Department and contracting fire services with Augusta, while two committee members favored the Farmingdale plan. The council discussed the report and came to a unanimous decision to save the department and move its operations to a new Farmingdale station. Langsdorf, who said he didn’t attend any of the public meetings during the review process, in part because of his connection to Augusta, went to the council’s February meeting and expressed his displeasure with the decision, but more importantly, the way the council came to it.

Langsdorf said he talked to many people during the week he spent gathering signatures who said they thought the council’s decision was made in haste after only 40 minutes.

“There were concerns that the decision was made too quickly,” Langsdorf said. “People expected some sort of a public forum or hearing so the council could hear more accurately what the people thought.”

At-large Councilor Lynn Irish, however, disputed Langsdorf’s assertions that the council made a quick decision. She said all the councilors, even the three elected in November, were heavily involved in the process from the beginning and gathered as much information as was presented.

“He’s dead wrong saying we made this decision based on one meeting,” Irish said. “There’s no way we made that important decision without public input and without knowing the issues.”

Irish, who owns a shop on Water Street, said she voted in favor of the Farmingdale plan because she was concerned that if Hallowell voted to disband its department now, it never would be able to bring it back in the future. She said the council made a hard decision and didn’t take it lightly.

“(The petition) is his right, but his opinion isn’t based on what really happened,” she said. “We had been getting update after update after update.”

People have called her saying they wish they hadn’t signed Langsdorf’s petition, Irish said. She said she appreciates his concern and thinks the people who support the Augusta plan probably found his arguments valid.

Chris Myers Asch admitted he hasn’t been too invested in the Hallowell fire services debate, but he said he’s known Langsdorf, a neighbor, for years and said what he was saying made sense.

“He has enough credibility in the community that once he makes a case, people are going to listen,” Myers Asch said. “I think he has the best interests of the city at heart, and when he says he looked into the issue, I’m going to pay closer attention.”

Langsdorf said after speaking to hundreds of Hallowell residents, he thinks a compromise that would allow an appropriate level of fire services to remain in Hallowell and to continue to work with firefighters in Augusta as first responders is in the city’s best interest.

Jason Pafundi — 621-5663

[email protected]

Twitter: @jasonpafundiKJ

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