Hallowell voters will go to polls on Friday, April 28, to vote on a bond to invest in Hallowell’s infrastructure and future. With much input and public discussion, the City Council unanimously voted to advance one bond of up to $2.36 million to address infrastructure and development needs throughout Hallowell. This includes approximately $535,000 for roads in rural Hallowell, $585,000 for Water Street reconstruction, $40,000 for street lights on the north end of the Water Street project, $300,000 for Central Street parking area acquisition, $220,000 for foundation and structure work needed on Hallowell’s historic fire station, $80,000 for maintenance and enhancement of city properties, and $600,000 for road work and conservation land at the Stevens School complex.

The council’s unanimous decision to combine the various projects into one bond is because the projects benefit all of Hallowell, and taken together they provide significant investments supporting the entire city in a way that is consistent with our comprehensive plan. These investments will position Hallowell to prosper and maintain its position as a great place to live and as a cultural hub in central Maine.

An argument was present for a separation of the bond questions, particularly the Stevens School component, because this component will invest public funds to assist with the development of a private property, and because the project comes with some risks. The City Council believes that the Stevens Commons developer has a good, sound plan for reusing this long-neglected property. The developer has invested more than $600,000 in the property already, and has committed in a binding agreement to producing affordable housing within five years. A key for prospective tenants and buyers at the site is to have a working road and water/sewer infrastructure. This is where the city’s bond funds will be invested.

We believe that the risk associated with Stevens Commons investment is small compared to the risk of having the property remain idle and neglected, as happened for years prior to the developer’s acquisition. Further, the Stevens Commons development projects that tax revenue to the city will exceed bond payments for the project in four or five years.

The bond investment will help assure that Stevens Commons will be developed in a manner that fits Hallowell’s comprehensive plan, including conservation land and access, and to establish a new tax base from which the city will increase its property tax revenue. The recent generous offer of $1 million to build a new fire station at Stevens Commons is another reason to support investment through the bond. Additionally, former City Council member Joan Sturmthal is giving the city $100,000 to help the city with Stevens Commons costs; these funds will offset all city borrowing costs in excess of property tax revenue from the property for at least two years. This generous gift shows the degree to which many Hallowell residents want Stevens Commons to become a hub of housing, recreation, and other uses.

Another bond component will fund the city’s costs needed for Water Street reconstruction in 2018. The Maine Department of Transportation commitment to the project totals $4.84 million, providing financial resources to rebuild the street and provide an improved roadway, better drainage, and enhancements to utilities, which modernize the infrastructure while maintaining the unique look of Hallowell’s downtown. The disruption of parking by construction next year will be partially offset by another bond component, namely providing additional parking on Central Street. This parking will be critical for next year’s construction and will also provide long-term parking in the downtown area, an ongoing issue for merchants, business customers, and residents living downtown.

Improvements to rural Hallowell roads will help with traffic issues during the reconstruction of Water Street and will also ensure the use and safety of roads that connect Hallowell with neighboring communities. These roads tie together the rural Hallowell neighborhoods with our downtown, thus strengthening Hallowell as a community.

Funds for the historic fire station on Second Street and other city buildings will be used for repairs and needed structural work, helping to maintain the character of downtown Hallowell and making the buildings more efficient and safe for public use.

Taken together, these bond components support a “one city, one bond” approach to support investment in Hallowell as a cohesive community that is a great place to live in and visit. Please vote on April 28.

George Lapointe is a Hallowell city councilor and chairman of the finance committee.

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