A view of Auburn Central Fire Station on Minot Avenue in Auburn, where a proposed joint public safety building would be erected. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal file photo

AUBURN — The timeline for a complete overhaul of the city’s public safety facilities is being extended to limit the impact on property taxpayers, officials said.

During a recent presentation to the City Council, officials said the project, which was originally expected to come before voters this November, will be pushed out to 2023.

A committee tasked with planning the projects and providing cost estimates recommended the city move forward with a proposal to build a new joint police and fire station on Minot Avenue.

Due to its estimated $38 million cost, voters would have the final say during a referendum.

Related projects to replace the Engine 2 fire station on South Main Street and renovate the Engine 5 station on Center Street would also be part of a four-year construction timeline slated to begin in 2024.

According to the schedule, construction of the public safety facility wouldn’t begin until 2026. The Engine 2 project would come first, with design in 2024 and construction in 2025.

Advertisement

The City Council will decide next spring on a final schedule when it approves the 5-year Capital Improvement Plan.

City Manager Phil Crowell said during the presentation that the decision to move to a “phased financial approach” came in response to the recent valuation adjustments Auburn was forced to make, which led to higher property taxes for many residents.

He said at its next meeting Sept. 6, the City Council will vote to adopt the committee’s recommendations and plan.

“Their work has been critical, it’s just the timing is just not the right timing for us,” he said.

If approved, the public safety project would result in a $1.36 increase in the property tax rate in 2026. Taken together, the tax increase is slated to be roughly $2 over the multiyear span.

The city has long planned to bring its Police Department to a new location. When the department relocated to Auburn Hall, it was meant to be a five-year solution. The department has now been there for 13 years.

Advertisement

A facilities assessment in 2019 found a range of issues with the city’s public safety buildings, including inadequate space, functionality, separation from hazards, and living quarters that don’t accommodate a diverse workforce.

Fire Chief Robert Chase has said all three fire facilities face a similar challenge: the need for separate living and work spaces from equipment and garage bays, where there are diesel fumes.

In March, it was announced that U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, had secured $2.5 million toward the public safety project.

Assistant City Manager Brian Wood said the ad hoc public safety committee this year reviewed cost estimates and recent projects in other municipalities, including Wells, Scarborough and South Portland. One earlier option was to renovate the Central Fire Station on Minot Avenue and add a police headquarters.

However, Wood said the committee found that a new station that encompasses both police and fire is the best and most cost effective. The city purchased an adjacent Minot Avenue property last year to allow an expanded footprint.

The total estimated cost of all three projects is $47.8 million, with the new Engine 2 station slated to cost $6.1 million, and the Engine 5 renovation estimated at $3 million.

Advertisement

Officials are hoping the delay could help with efforts to secure more federal or state funding, or more time for construction costs to decrease.

Wood said the estimated impact to the tax rate doesn’t take into account future valuation increases from planned and future residential and commercial development or potential federal or state funding.

The building committee’s key recommendation was that the council place the joint facility before voters and “explore all additional funding opportunities to lessen the impact on taxpayers.”

Mayor Jason Levesque said public safety personnel have not been “working in the best of conditions,” adding that it “was never the council’s intent to keep kicking the can down the road.”

“We need to move cautiously, and we’ll get there, it’s just going to take us a little longer,” Councilor Leroy Walker said.

Comments are no longer available on this story

filed under: