HALLOWELL — More than a dozen people spoke in favor of and against the proposed $2.36 million bond package during a special City Council meeting Monday.

Mayor Mark Walker said the council will vote whether to approve the bond proposal at its regular March 13 meeting. If approved, the bond would then be put to the voters during a special election April 20. The final public hearing for this proposal was originally scheduled for the council’s Feb. 13 meeting, which was postponed to the following day because of a blizzard.

“We’ve had a lot of information provided to use over the last few months,” Mayor Mark Walker said. The meeting was held in the City Hall Auditorium and a new audio/video system including microphones and a projector screen were used for the first time.

The bond includes $600,000 for developer Matt Morrill’s Stevens Commons project, $585,000 for a Water Street reconstruction project, $535,000 for work on rural Hallowell roads, $300,000 for downtown parking improvements and $220,000 to restore the fire station’s water tower. If approved by council, it will go to the voters sometime in the spring.

Finance committee chairman George LaPointe said the city decided on one bond package because “the various components of the bond fit together to support the economic vitality and development of Hallowell.” But not everyone agreed.

Steve Rubin said he is in favor of every part of the bond except the Stevens Commons portion, and because of that, he would vote against the entire package. Patricia Connors, who sent out a mailer in opposition to Morrill’s plan earlier this year, took things a step further and said if the council doesn’t put the Stevens Commons part into its own question, there will be a serious campaign to defeat the entire bond package.

“I’m opposed to the Stevens School bond because Matt Morrill is engaged in a profit-making enterprise,” she said. She then said Morrill’s financial information and disclosures are in the same place as President Donald Trump’s tax returns.

Morrill joked that he wouldn’t be releasing his tax returns, but he added he’s spent more on the property so far than he’s asking for the city to invest. He also said the city will own the land that it is investing in before any of the bond money is spent.

He also said he has a couple of multi-million dollar projects on the horizon that hinge on the bond being passed by the voters.

Ken Young disagrees with the single bond proposal and said using a single bond question frustrates voters’ ability to exercise their judgment on the merits of each item.

“A single question also puts the whole package at risk of a negative vote,” Young said. “Most who speak to me say they do not like the one question approach because they want to make their own choices and set their own priorities.

Young has also spoken publicly on many occasions about his concern with the Stevens Commons portion of the bond proposal.

He said Morrill’s project is “fraught with risk” because “the developer has little, if any, redevelopment experience, little, if any, major bank or experienced investor backing and little, if any, objective market analysis.”

Young said by spending $600,000 up front, the city is assuming all those risks. “Once the city’s money is in, it has no other option other than to wait passively, potentially for a very long time, and hope for the best,” he said.

Harold Booth, on the other hand, supports the single bond package because it’s part of the city’s investment in itself, especially the Stevens Commons project.

“Finally, someone had the fortitude to make an investment in it, and what (Morrill) paid for the property is nothing, but what he’s putting into it is huge,” Booth said. “It’s all part of fixing the city for ourselves and the future.”

Nathan Pierce moved to a new house in Hallowell a few years ago and said he may not have the history in Hallowell as some long-time residents, but he has just as much of a stake in the future.

“We want all of the components of this bond to pass, and this isn’t a knee-jerk reaction,” Pierce said. “We’ve educated ourselves to the best of our ability.”

Since buying the former girls school, Morrill has called the project a public-private partnership that will bring added tax revenue to the city. He said in January that he’s put more than two years into the project and is asking the city “for a little bit of money to get the road network in place.”

At-large councilor Lynn Irish last week said the city has the potential for a huge payoff when the property is developed.

“Hallowell has a big interest in getting that property developed,” she said. “What Matt is asking is what whoever owned the property would ask for.”

Young, however, said the prior council decided how to proceed well before hearing from the citizens of Hallowell regarding the best way to work with the developer.

Morrill, of Grand View Log and Timber Frames in Winthrop, acquired the 54-acre Stevens Commons campus from the state in April for $215,000 and hopes to turn it into a mixed-use development including affordable senior housing, commercial and retail space and small, clustered subdivisions.

He asked the city for help fixing the roads and sidewalks on the campus, which he said would make the property more attractive to other developers and tenants. His proposal includes turning over ownership of the roads to the city, which then would oversee all maintenance. The council approved the project’s master plan application last month.

Councilors hope the funding for downtown parking improvements would help alleviate potential parking problems during next year’s Water Street reconstruction project.

LaPointe said the money would be used to acquire four lots near Central Street and the historic Dummer House. He said the money also would help cover the cost of moving the Dummer House to Second Street and creating a new parking area on the acquired land.

“It’s a short-term action to get the properties and make some temporary parking during construction while still allowing for long-term planning,” LaPointe said last month. “It’s a lot of money, but it’s been an ongoing problem for business owners and residents for a long time.

The bond proposal originally called for an additional $300,000 toward construction of a new parking lot, but councilors thought spending $30,000 to $60,000 per new parking space was not a sound financial decision, LaPointe said. He said the council might need to consider budgeting additional money for the construction of a more permanent parking area, and he thinks there are more cost-effective ways to do it.

Jason Pafundi — 621-5663

[email protected]

Twitter: @jasonpafundiKJ


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.