AUGUSTA — A proposal to borrow $6 million to renovate and expand the city’s 96-year-old central fire station will go to residents in a referendum in November.

City councilors voted unanimously Thursday to approve a proposal to seek residents’ permission to issue bonds for up to $6 million for the proposed major renovation and expansion of Hartford Station.

The 1920 building at the head of Rines Hill, above the south end of the city’s downtown, is the fire department’s headquarters. Firetrucks can’t be parked inside it now, both because of structural deficiencies in the floor and because some trucks won’t fit through its garage doors.

The long-planned project would seek to address multiple problems at Hartford Station, from which firefighters and emergency medical services workers respond to about 60 percent of the 5,000 annual calls for those services in Augusta.

The brick building’s problems, officials say, include garage bays so narrow that newer firetrucks won’t fit into them; a structurally deficient floor that can’t support the weight of firetrucks; and a lack of space for training, female sleeping quarters, decontaminating equipment and clothing, and access for people with disabilities.

No members of the public spoke for or against the proposal Thursday, and council debate was minimal.

At-Large Councilor Dale McCormick said constituents have asked why private funds couldn’t be raised to help pay for the project, as occurred in the recently completed $11 million major expansion and renovation of the city’s Lithgow Public Library.

City Manager William Bridgeo said the library renovation and expansion was “an extraordinary and unique enterprise” and not typical of how cities generally fund major building and other public infrastructure renovations. He also agreed with McCormick that fire stations are eligible for some Tax Increment Financing, or TIF, funds, while libraries are not.

“The most common way communities fund (major renovation or expansion of) buildings and their capital assets is general obligation bonds,” Bridgeo said.

Ralph St. Pierre, finance director and assistant city manager, said debt for the project would be repaid with proceeds from TIF districts.

City officials have designated tax revenue to be collected in multiple TIF districts in the city to pay for fire station improvements. St. Pierre said those TIFs are projected to bring in enough money to pay the cost of debt for the fire station improvements. He said the annual debt service for the project, about $465,000, would mostly be covered using about $300,000 to be collected from revenue from natural gas pipeline development, about $130,000 from the recently opened Homewood Suites by Hilton hotel on Western Avenue, and about $20,000 from the redevelopment of the former MaineGeneral Medical Center property on East Chestnut Street.

Thus, St. Pierre said, “it would not have an adverse impact on the city’s property tax rate.”

The building would be expanded on the east side of the site, onto land already owned by the city. Also, officials said, it probably would require the discontinuance of the short section of Gage Street that now provides access from just off Memorial Bridge to Water Street.

The city’s largest, heaviest firetrucks would be kept in the addition, in two large drive-through bays and two smaller back-in bays. The existing four smaller bays would be used to park ambulances, pickup trucks and other lighter, smaller pieces of equipment.

A $4 million fire station is under construction at the intersection of Leighton Road and Anthony Avenue to serve the north Augusta area, but Hartford is expected to remain the city’s main fire station.

The city already has at least two firetrucks – an engine and a ladder truck – that can’t be kept at Hartford because they’re too big and heavy. The trucks now are kept at the Western Avenue station, and the city in January expects to take delivery of a new multipurpose ladder firetruck that also won’t fit inside Hartford.

Officials said the station is in an ideal location, on top of a hill overlooking the city it was built to protect. A 2008 Matrix Consulting Group study concluded Hartford Station is ideally located to be the city’s central fire station.

Bridgeo said that if funding for the project is approved by residents, it could go out to bid in the summer and the station could be renovated and ready to open by the fall of 2018.

In the meantime, the garage floor issue at Hartford probably will get some more immediate attention regardless of whether the larger renovation and expansion take place. Earlier this year, the city discovered cracks had developed in the flooring, which is built on top of a basement, and it could no longer hold fire engines. That’s when the engine kept there was moved to the Western Avenue station. City officials said the city plans to do a temporary fix, using cribbing to shore up two of the four bays at Hartford so they can support the weight of the firetrucks.

Keith Edwards can be contacted at 621-5647 or at:

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Twitter: @kedwardskj