SKOWHEGAN — Selectmen Tuesday night voted 3-2 to hold a referendum Nov. 6 on borrowing $8.5 million for a combined public safety building and to hold a public hearing on the question Oct. 16.

The board picked up where they left off on Aug. 28 when they voted to a 2-2 tie on the motion, with Selectwoman Betty Austin and Selectman Eugene Rouse objecting to the proposed location of the public safety building and Chairman Paul York and Selectman Roger Staples voting in favor of the plan.

Selectwoman Vanessa York was not in attendance that night to cast a tie-breaking vote, but voted Tuesday night in favor of moving the question to referendum in November and let voters have the final say.

Tuesday night’s vote did not come without a few tense moments after Austin, who also is a state representative, moved to change the motion to leave open the possibility of not locating the building on the proposed site on East Madison Road.

Town Manager Christine Almand said that motion would not be possible because voters at the annual Town Meeting in June had already approved an article for that location.

The language of the Town Meeting article was clear, Almand said.

“I think the motion you made is problematic,” Almand said to Austin. “I don’t think I can move forward with the motion that was made. I’m not sure that is a valid motion.”

Austin later conceded that her original motion Tuesday night flew in the face of the Town Meeting vote.

“I think that many people who voted (at Town Meeting) thought that perhaps there could still be discussion about whether we would use that land or not,” Austin said after the meeting. “I want to have a public safety building. It’s just that I’m not sure it’s the right spot.”

Selectwoman Vanessa York said she thought it was best to bring the proposal to a public hearing in October and a referendum vote in November and let the people of Skowhegan decide if the location is the best place for a public safety building or not.

Almand got a unanimous go-ahead from selectmen in April to sign a purchase and sale agreement and to spend $5,500 as a down payment for land off East Madison Road, where the new public safety building would be built to house police and fire under one roof.

The Skowhegan Police Department has been operating for decades in the basement of the Municipal Building on Water Street.

Skowhegan Fire Chief Shawn Howard said the fire station on Island Avenue was built in 1904 and is believed to be the oldest continuously operating firehouse in the state.

Both Howard and police Chief David Bucknam said a combined public safety building would add to the efficiency of both departments and a cost saving on heat, electricity and fuel.

The new public safety building was approved by voters at Town Meeting on June 11. The proposed site is on Dunlop Lane, on 11.3 acres between the Nazarene New Horizons Community Church and a large water tower on East Madison Road in Skowhegan.

The site is not far from the new county jail, built just over the line in East Madison in 2009.

Members of a combined Public Safety Committee formed to find a suitable location, have said the town doesn’t own property suitable for such a structure and researched several properties and found the piece owned by Clarice B. Dunlop to be the best suited.

The 12-member committee is made up of police and fire officials, the code enforcement officer, the road commission and a Somerset County commissioner from Skowhegan.

Austin said Aug. 28 that she worried that the bridge on Madison Avenue near Gifford’s Ice Cream could become snarled with traffic in an emergency, thus blocking the only route to the rest of town.

Selectman Eugene Rouse said his objection was not having a police department right downtown for easy citizen access.

Others have also expressed doubts about the proposed East Madison Road location — not the project itself. Some said in April that their concerns about the proposed location is that it’s on “the other side of town,” away from the hospital, the high school and other schools, the Sappi paper mill and the New Balance factory.

Another said that a new, state-of-the-art building should be visible from main traffic routes showing that Skowhegan is a prosperous town.

Howard said Skowhegan is divided into four fire districts and that the proposed site is in an area where 36 percent of all the fire calls originate. He said the proposed site in 1.4 miles from the current station. Howard added that 18 of the 22 firefighters live on that side of the Kennebec River.

Bucknam said the new location would not affect call times for police, as they are in patrol cruisers all over town. Paul York added that locating the new building anywhere close to downtown could mean taking existing property and “wiping out” land and buildings currently on the tax rolls and would be costly “before you even start digging the hole” for construction.

The proposed location also would not affect homeowners’ insurance rates, others said.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]

Twitter:@Doug_Harlow

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.