HALLOWELL — Mayor Mark Walker looked back on 2017, during his annual address Tuesday at Hallowell’s inauguration ceremony, as a year when critical decisions were made while looking ahead to what’s in store for 2018, a year that will include the much-anticipated Water Street reconstruction.

In the past 12 months, Hallowell made a decision on the future of its Fire Department, received voter approval for a $2.36 million investment in infrastructure and development and took steps to increase parking in the downtown district.

“Last year I spoke of the turnover of council members and on city staff, and there were many big issues facing our city,” Walker said. “As a city and with this council, we faced critical, long-term decisions that will impact Hallowell for decades.”

This year is different because it’s the first time since 2008 when there are no new councilors and the same mayor. Walker and councilors Diano Circo, George LaPointe and Michael Frett won re-election without opposition in November. Walker said having the same group of seven councilors, the same mayor and the same city manager gives the city some longed-for consistency in leadership.

“I, for one, appreciate that, and I believe we are well prepared for dealing with the new decisions,” the mayor said. “Continuity will be a plus, and experience has been gained.”

The councilors held a retreat last month at which they talked about short- and long-term council goals. In a surprise to nobody, the biggest short-term goal is to help guide the city through the reconstruction of Water Street, its largest infrastructure project in more than 50 years.

The Maine Department of Transportation is scheduled to begin rebuilding a 2,000-foot stretch of the busy corridor in April. It’s been in the works for more than a decade, and the DOT has worked with city leadership to design a project they think best meets the needs of the city. The DOT will host an open house Jan. 10 to go over final details of the project before the work gets put out to bid.

Walker said he expects City Manager Nate Rudy to continue working with the communications committee to improve technology and how the city communicates with residents and business owners, which is one of the highest priorities during the reconstruction project.

Another priority this year will be reviewing the best uses for several city-owned properties, including the Dr. Hubbard House, the public works garage, some open spaces, City Hall and the historic Second Street fire station.

“This historic building will no longer serve as our fire station by the spring, and there are a multitude of options to consider, including moving our Police Department to the first floor,” Walker said. “Obviously city investment will be required to re-purpose this building, and it’s one of the bigger decisions for 2018.”

Walker said councilors talked about how the appropriation for Regional School Unit 2 accounts for more than half of Hallowell’s annual budget. Councilors serve as liaisons with citizen-based committees, no one represents the council at RSU 2 meetings. Beginning this year, one councilor will attend every RSU 2 board meeting so that the council may stay informed about the city’s school district.

After investing millions of city, state and federal dollars to improve roads, buildings and utilities, Walker said it’s time to invite new investors, new businesses and new citizens to come to Hallowell. He said he and the council will work with the Hallowell Board of Trade and its economic development committee to seek desirable businesses and investments in the city.

He said he met someone who said he thinks of the word “happy” when thinking about Hallowell. Walker said it’s the city’s historic downtown and buildings, strong support for education, diversity, the vibrant arts and cultural community and its welcoming nature that makes Hallowell so distinctive.

Walker ended his address, the shortest he’s ever given as mayor, by offering a glimpse into what he thinks makes Hallowell such a great place to live.

“We may not have every answer. We may debate and discuss and, at times, disagree; but at the end of the day, we have respect for our residents, enjoy our uniqueness and live our fulfilling and hopefully happy lives,” he said.

Before his address, Walker re-appointed the same council committees as last year’s. Walker said all the councilors are “tremendously active and dedicated” and they’ll have a full plate of decisions to make and tasks to undertake this year.

The council is scheduled to hold its first official meeting of the year at 6 p.m. Monday at City Hall. The agenda has not yet been released.

Jason Pafundi — 621-5663

[email protected]

Twitter: @jasonpafundiKJ

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