Anne Fuchs, right, of the Maine Emergency Management Agency, explains possible financing for a new fire station for Rumford and Mexico. From left are Rumford Selectman Mark Belanger, Mexico Selectman Cliff Stewart, Rumford Economic Development Director George O’Keefe, Rumford Police Chief Tony Milligan and Rumford Fire Chief Chris Reed. Bruce Farrin/Rumford Falls Times

MEXICO — Selectmen from Rumford and Mexico voted unanimously Wednesday to apply for federal funding to build one fire station for both towns.

Officials met at the Town Hall with Anne Fuchs, hazard mitigation officer for Maine Emergency Management Agency, about financing the project.

Rumford Town Manager Stacy Carter said the two aging fire stations are 1.2 miles apart; Rumford’s at  151 Congress St. and Mexico’s at 118 Main St.

Rumford’s has cracking cement and bay doors too narrow for new apparatus. Mexico’s is in a flood plain.

Lt. Keith Bickford drives Tanker 5 from the Rumford Fire Station in November 2019. Selectmen are considering replacing the station on Congress Street with a new one shared with neighborning Mexico. Bruce Farrin/Rumford Falls Times file photo

“At least to start . . . it will be a joint facility housing Rumford and Mexico fire departments, and if at some point, even before construction starts or after construction is done, if the consensus of the towns are to have one joint department, then that opportunity would be there,” Carter said.

Mexico Town Manager Jack Gaudet said no matter where the new station is built, Mexico wants to have its own fire department.

“If we stick our nose to the air for this opportunity, then we have what we have. And that’s it. The concept is to have a joint (facility) built, not a joint department,” he said.

Fuchs said Rumford is in a federally designated Opportunity Zone created to revitalize economically distressed communities using private investments rather than taxpayer dollars.

“That draws a lot of attention to the Economic Development Administration,” a federal agency, she said. “They want to see projects funded in these Opportunity Zones, which doesn’t exclude Mexico. It really is an incentive for both of these towns to come together, under a new facility, under these EDA funds, as a means to also serve as an economic driver for Rumford and for Mexico. What’s really exciting about this EDA opportunity, since you’re in an Opportunity Zone, a project like this could be eligible for up to 90% federal funding, 10% local cost share.”

Fuchs said because Mexico Fire Department isn’t in the Opportunity Zone, it would likely not be considered by itself for EDA funding.

She said Alan Brigham, the EDA administrator for Maine, “can help create this great application package, which he then delivers to headquarters, which decides upon the cost share. Alan, with his expertise, said in an Opportunity Zone, we can push for a 90-10. There just has to be that economic driver.”

Chris Brennick, chairman of the Rumford Select Board, asked about the timeline for a grant.

“With this EDA opportunity, there’s no deadline,” Fuchs said. “Funding is available until the funds run out. This is a regional opportunity, not a national opportunity, which makes it a little bit less competitive.”

She said the necessary steps include engineering, a site everyone agrees on and a budget.

“It could take maybe a year to develop a competitive application package,” she said.

Rumford Economic Development Director George O’Keefe said local officials need to pursue this opportunity as fast as possible.

“These Opportunity Zone designations strongly link to the current administration in Washington, D.C.,” he said. “We have an election in November and possibly a change in administration in January. There is no guarantee that a new administration would continue the emphasis on the economic Opportunity Zones.”

Mexico Selectman Cliff Stewart asked if the station must be in Rumford.

Fuchs said it would not.

However, O’Keefe noted, “EDA, with their emphasis on Opportunity Zones right now, it would greatly assist the application if it’s actually in the designated census tract.”

He encouraged officials to immediately begin work to select a site.

Carter suggested the station be near the town line “so it has close proximity to both. We have a pretty good idea where our call service numbers are. That’s the downtown area, and we have to have quick access to the mill.”

He said Rumford owns land at the snow dump on Rumford Avenue and the DARE Park on Falmouth Street, “all within close response to Mexico, the mill and Rumford’s downtown area.”

Selectmen decided to finish the 2020-21 municipal budgets before their next meeting, tentatively set for Wednesday, March 25, based on EDA administrator Brigham’s availability.


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