HALLOWELL — City council candidates took part in an introductory forum Monday in an attempt to strengthen their campaigns, laying out their goals for Hallowell ahead of a comprehensive plan update in 2020.

The forum featured both councilor-at-large candidates — newcomer Matt Radasch and incumbent George Lapointe — as well as Diana Scully, who will run unopposed for the Ward 3 City Councilor seat being vacated by Kara Walker. The candidates sat at a table in front of the Hallowell City Hall auditorium and answered questions from about 30 residents in attendance. These races, along with a seat on the Regional School Unit 2 Board, will be decided Nov. 5.

The candidates also touched on the future of the former fire station on Second Street, the city’s increasing budget and the city’s relationship with Hubbard Free Library.

Mayor Mark Walker moderated the forum and asked the candidates what they would like to see in the city’s new comprehensive plan, which is being updated in 2020. Radasch, who is part of the Comprehensive Plan Committee, said he wanted the city to focus on green initiatives and see more development on the city’s portion of Whitten Road.

“We have three big ol’ Ford Explorers (police cruisers) sitting outside,” he said. “How can we transition that to three Toyota Priuses?”

Lapointe said he would like to see more economic development in the city, namely at the south end of the city and Pine State property on U.S. Route 201, just before the Augusta line. Scully said she hoped to see the preservation of the city’s outdoor resources, more housing for elderly citizens and attempts to encourage younger families to reside in Hallowell.

In September, Radasch criticized Lapointe, who is on the city’s Finance Committee, for not working hard enough to boost city revenues to offset expenditures that increased taxes more than 8%, but declined to comment further on his plans at that time. During opening remarks, Radasch laid out his three-step process for trimming city spending. First, he said he would use this year’s $6.2 million expenditure budget as a baseline, then he and he would use those recommendations to create a budget with a 5% to 10% decrease in spending. He said he wanted that budget to focus on paying down bonds, increasing trash pick in the city’s parks, and to address sidewalk and culvert work.

Later during the forum, Radasch was asked where he would have cut the budget this fiscal year. He said he would start with the actual amount of money dispersed, rather than the amount budgeted for some lines. Specifically, he said a third cruiser for the Hallowell Police Department was not necessary because only two officers are using cruisers busy nights. Radasch also suggested that the city shut down heating during the winter at the former fire station on Second Street to reduce the cost of maintaining the property, comparing it to a cottage that his family owns and shuts down for the winter.

Another attendee asked Lapointe if it was viable to make the changes Radasch suggested. He said police officials convinced him a third cruiser was necessary in case one needs to be serviced. He also said he didn’t support turning off the heat to the Second Street fire station because “old buildings go to hell when you turn the heat off.”  Further, Lapointe said that the city struggles with expenditures because its residents would like city services, but has a “limited economic base.”

Lapointe added that the Second Street fire station will be the subject of a study this year that will update estimates on what it would take to rehab the building or convert it for another use. It has been postulated that the building could be a museum or the home of the Hallowell Police Department in the future, but estimates on how much that will cost have not been updated since August 2018. Those estimates were discussed in a memo ahead of the Feb. 11 City Council meeting. Full rehabilitation of the building would cost $336,284, in addition to $220,600 in bond funds used to stabilize the building. For a proposal for the police department to move into the building, it could cost an additional $170,000 to $250,000, according to the memo. The memo also said the city spends about $20,000 a year to maintain the building.

Lapointe said the upcoming study will help councilors make an “informed decision” on the future of the building. He said he wanted to find a way to use the whole building to maximum revenue, adding that the police department could be there, along with the city’s food bank and an apartment on the upper floor could be converted to offices.

“Rather than the decision that’s based on hope, I want to have those concrete numbers,” he said. “It’s not something that somebody can do on the back of a notepad, it is a complex process.”

Dan Shagoury, a resident and member of the Hubbard Free Library Board of Trustees, asked the candidates their opinions on additional funding for the library from the city. The city contributed $42,000 in funding to the library this fiscal year, but was asked for $60,000 by library officials. In August, the library announced that it was cutting hours due to its budget deficit.

Scully said she would need to review information about the library, but said she would not want to lose it. Lapointe said it was a question of how much the library needed and what the city got from their contribution. He indicated that a working group, which includes himself and City Councilor Patrick Wynne, is considering options for the library and the next request from the institution would be “significant.” Radasch said he supported keeping the city’s contribution where it is, but promoting other ways to bring more funding into the library.

Two candidates for the Regional School Unit 2 School Board, incumbent Dawn Gallagher and Peter Spiegel, did not attend Monday’s forum. Gallagher, who has served on the board since 2008, returned papers for the position because she believed no one else would run. When Gallagher learned Spiegel returned papers, she told the Kennebec Journal she would try to drop out of the race and endorse Spiegel. Gallagher’s name will appear on the ballot along with Spiegel on Nov. 5.

Spiegel, a father of two, is a former educator who now works from home doing health-related coding, podcasting and consulting. He told the Kennebec Journal in September that he felt he could “add a positive voice” to the board.

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