Harpswell budget wish list taking shape

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HARPSWELL — With Town Meeting only two months away, committees are refining their recommendations for projects expected to be major warrant and budget items.

The Fire and Rescue Planning Committee is recommending the town hire two municipal firefighters and a fire administrator to augment its volunteer services, according to Selectman Kevin Johnson.

The Mitchell Field Committee is working with an engineer to finalize what it would cost to remove the dilapidated pier at the old U.S. Navy fuel depot, which prior estimates put between $3-5 million. 

The committee will hold a public workshop on Jan. 17 to gather input on its recommendation for a replacement pier.

The Budget Advisory Committee identified the pier demolition and the fire services as new line items on the 2017 town budget, a draft of which the committee presented to selectmen Monday. 

The draft outlines a total budget of just over $5 million, a 2.67 percent increase over this year’s budget of $4.9 million.

The Fire and Rescue Planning Committee’s recommendation is the first step in a multi-phase plan, and modifies an earlier version that included hiring a municipal fire chief instead of a fire administrator.

Johnson said the committee decided against hiring a chief in order to keep the existing departments “intact” – referring to the organization and camaraderie that has formed under separate, volunteer chiefs.

Harpswell has three volunteer fire stations on Harpswell Neck, Orr’s Island, and Cundy’s Harbor.

The committee is requesting nearly $125,000 to support the new hires, $30,000 of which is for renovations to accommodate new hires at the Orr’s and Bailey Island Fire Department. Unlike volunteers, municipal firefighters would stay at the station, which reduces response times but requires the town to update the station’s amenities.

However, Johnson said the department is applying for a federal grant to cover the  cost of the updates, which totals $60,000, and would add an exercise room and bunk space.

He added that later phases of the plan – which would eventually result in a central fire station on Mountain Road – have no defined time line.

At last year’s Town Meeting, the town voted to demolish the pier at Mitchell Field, and voters will likely have the chance to vote on borrowing money for the costly removal.

Mitchell Field Committee Chairwoman Jane Covey said that actions to improve the area’s waterfront would likely take place in three warrant articles.

The first would allow the town to borrow money to remove the pier, a deteriorated structure that Town Administrator Kristi Eiane called Monday “a liability (that) looms larger and larger.”

The town voted to remove the pier last March, and engineer Barney Baker is studying what the removal will cost. Covey said “there will be hard figures for that by the time the warrant is written” before March. 

The second item would appropriate $150,000 for a reserve fund for waterfront improvement – money that Covey said might be used as matching funds for a grant that would pay for a replacement pier.

Covey said the Mitchell Field Committee has coalesced around an option for a new pier, which they intend to share at a Jan. 17 meeting.

A third warrant article would give the town a chance to approve the committee’s ultimate recommendation, Covey said.

Callie Ferguson can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100, or cferguson@theforecaster.net. Follow Callie on Twitter: @calliecferguson.

Reporting on municipal, school, and community news in Brunswick and Harpswell. Bowdoin graduate, Wild Oats sandwich-eater. Callie can be reached at 207-781-3661 ext. 100, or cferguson@theforecaster.net.