A small crowd gathered at the Town Hall in Edgecomb Wednesday night for a public meeting regarding a proposed new fire station, estimated to cost $675,000.
Of the some 25 people in attendance at the March 24 meeting, none argued against Edgecomb needing to replace the current, decaying fire station. Building Committee members explained expenses and funding options for the proposal, as well as a preliminary design for what project members anticipate would fulfill all firefighting needs in Edgecomb.
Pending voter approval and if all works out as planned, the project could start next spring. Selectmen said they hope to have a question addressing the issue on the town warrant in May.
“The complexity of the fire department has changed dramatically,” Building Committee member and Selectman Jack Sarmanian said. “We need to build a fire station at this time.”
The Edgecomb Fire Dept. has responded to nearly 30 calls in the past two months, he added. Fire Chief Roy Potter followed up Sarmanian’s comments by adding his department is ready for a new building.
His crew has to take their turnout gear and other equipment home with them after a fire or other incident. Firefighters often don’t meet at the station when a call goes out, either, because there is no room in the current structure, Potter said.
The countywide mutual aid system, which coordinates response efforts between neighboring fire departments during an emergency, requires those departments to meet a certain level of readiness. During an emergency, the Edgecomb Fire Dept. might be needed to stand by their station. Potter said they currently are unable to man their station due to its size and condition.
They have no running water, no restrooms and fire engines have to be taken outside for routine vehicle checks. Potter said perhaps 75 – 80 percent of volunteer firefighter time is spent preparing for real emergencies. Due to the condition of the building, firefighters are unable to hold meetings there and the department just uses it to house the equipment.
“Our roof didn’t cave in on us this year,” Potter added, referring to the temporary repair work to shore up the station roof last year. “We’re doing the best we can.”
Even if the roof does not cave in on top of the fire department’s equipment, the building is in really bad shape, according to emergency personnel and town officials. After having had a courtesy inspection from the Maine Board of Labor, it was determined the building would not meet board standards. Potter said the building inspection revealed several deficiencies, such as those related to building electric codes.
“It’s important that we move forward,” Potter said, “so that we protect the volunteers who help protect the town.”
Edgecomb’s Assistant Fire Chief, Larry Omland, who works with Lincoln County’s Emergency Management Agency, said the most recent storm involved 80-100 man-hours to negotiate all of the problems with flooding and other issues in town. Of particular concern for Omland is the lack of a command center for the town’s emergency personnel.
“There needs to be a focal point,” he said. “We don’t really have a place, an emergency operating center. Right now it’s my car.”
Jim McQuaide, an architectural design expert who co-created a preliminary new fire station design, explained to those in attendance the reasons for the design layout.
He said the station needs to have two septic systems: one for an administration and training wing and the other for the apparatus (truck) bay. Building Committee members said they toured a number of local fire departments to get a sense of what would work as far as dimensions and design for Edgecomb.
The proposed design, which is similar to the Jefferson fire station, fits the site, McQuaide said. Its administration wing is 40 by 50 feet (2000 square feet), to include storage for maintenance, electrical and other equipment, a multi-use training and meeting room, office space and bathrooms. The design shows an apparatus bay that would be 60 by 80 feet (4800 square feet) to house current fire engines, as well as additional space for future equipment.
Committee members and fire department personnel toured three Lincoln County fire stations to get ideas. Potter said his department would be able to dry the truck hoses much faster with radiant floor heating.
McQuaide said they would assign the design to an engineer following an interview process, who would then draft an official plan for the project. If the town approves the project, it would go out for competitive bidding for the contracting work.
According to Sarmanian, Edgecomb is eligible for a 30-year loan from the US Dept. of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development Program for the estimated total at 4.125 percent interest. The loan for the project would need to be spent within three years. Over 30 years, the total payback cost, including interest (estimated $513,000), would come to $1,188,780. Building Committee members said the interest would not increase, but could decrease.
Sarmanian said the town could borrow the entire amount, but the project could cost less. It would take about four months after applying for the loan to get USDA approval. Committee members agreed the town would not have to borrow any more than the project required, there is no pre-payment fine and the interest would not change for the life of the loan.
Building Committee members have been discussing the possibility of using Tax Increment Financing (TIF) funds to help pay off the loan. The town of Casco was able to use TIF funds from their area to purchase fire department equipment, Sarmanian said.
As described in the manual created by the Maine Dept. of Economic and Community Development, TIF is a tool municipalities can use to fund local projects by using all or a portion of new property taxes from a capital investment. Towns use future increased tax revenue to repay loans used to finance a project.
While the TIF funds were intended for the Edgecomb Development (formerly owned by Roger Bintliff and currently owned by Priority Group, LLC), the town might be able to justify using the funds for the public safety project.
“If the TIF money comes through,” Sarmanian said. “It would take a great burden off the community.”
He added even though the fire station is not on TIF land, the activities of the fire department protect that property. Selectmen agreed at their March 22 meeting to hire Eric Stumpfel and Portland-based law firm, Eaton Peabody, to look into modifying TIF funding for the project. Selectmen chair Stuart Smith said there is a potential $80,000 per year from the TIF funds the town could use to help pay off the loan.
A few people in the audience who addressed the committee expressed their support for the fire department and concerns about cost. Resident Bobbi Carleton thanked firefighters for responding to a truck fire on her property. She also wanted to know if it would be possible to save the town money by not completing all aspects of the project and if some items could be left for later.
Committee member Sue Carlson said the proposed fire station design, which she co-created, meets all code requirements. “There’s really no bells and whistles in this at all,” she said.
Potter said some of the equipment the fire department needs could be purchased later.
In addition to the loan and possibility of using TIF funds, town officials have been looking into other funding avenues. There is a non-profit “Firehouse Fund” and Omland said the department intends to hold an annual fundraising drive.