SKOWHEGAN — Voters on Election Day Nov. 6 will be asked in a referendum question if they will authorize the Skowhegan Board of Selectmen to borrow an amount not to exceed $8.5 million to build and equip a combined public safety building for the police and fire departments.

The building would be on town-owned land on East Madison Road.

Polls will be open Nov. 6 at the Municipal Building on Water Street from 7 a.m. until 8 p.m.

The Skowhegan Board of Selectmen and the Budget and Finance Committee both recommend a “Yes” vote on the referendum question.

According to the town treasurer’s financial statement, Skowhegan has $13.1 million in bonds outstanding and unpaid. Borrowing another $8.5 million would bring the indebtedness to $21.6 million. With just over $3 million in interest, the total debt service to be paid on the public safety building bond would be about $11.7 million.

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

The town’s only fire station, on Island Avenue, was built in 1904 and is believed to be the oldest continuously operating firehouse in the state.

When Town Manager Christine 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 a new, combined public safety building would be built, residents’ reactions were mixed.

Voters approved the land purchase at Town Meeting in June, but not everyone favored the location.

There have been debates about the location and the cost — and the associated debt — of the building since the idea first was hatched five years ago.

Skowhegan Fire Chief Shawn 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.

Members of a Public Safety Committee, formed to find a suitable location, have said the town previously didn’t own property suitable for such a structure. They researched several properties and found the piece owned by Clarice B. Dunlop to be the best option. The 12-member committee is made up of police and fire officials, the code enforcement officer, the road commissioner and a Somerset County commissioner from Skowhegan.

Some residents during hearings and meetings this year worried about the proposed location of the building, noting 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. Some said 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.

Others objected to not having the Police Department right downtown for easy citizen access.

Howard, the fire chief, 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 is 1.4 miles from the current station. Howard added that 18 of the 22 firefighters live on that side of the Kennebec River.

Bucknam, the police chief, said the new location would not affect call times for police, as they are in patrol cruisers all over town.

Paul York, chairman of the Board of Selectmen and a member of the search committee, said 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 it would be costly “before you even start digging the hole” for construction.

Others said Skowhegan was long overdue in upgrading its emergency delivery system. Town sewer lines would be extended from the area of Coldbrook Saab, and a pressure pump will be used to bring water to the building.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]


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