Limestone to continue fire protection at Loring for at least 1 month

10 months ago

LIMESTONE, Maine — Limestone officials will continue negotiations with the Loring Development Authority on fire service payments following a Thursday evening vote.

But if Loring does not pay at least its yearly contribution to Limestone’s fire service, or address concerns about blighted buildings and damaged roads, Limestone could cut off the former Air Force base from fire protection in October, Select Board Chair Randy Brooker said.

Earlier this month, Limestone’s Select Board claimed that the Loring Development Authority owed the town $1.2 million for police and fire coverage since 2015. Limestone closed its police department this spring but has provided coverage to Loring since 2015 when it disbanded its joint fire service with Limestone and Fort Fairfield.

The Select Board’s vote comes at a time of change for Loring. Portland-based developer Green 4 Maine LLC purchased 450 acres earlier this year and has signed on several start-up companies. With new development likely for the former base, Limestone officials want a stronger say in its future, especially when that involves town services.

After learning that officials at Loring Job Corps and Defense Finance and Accounting Service, two of the former base’s major employers, were not informed of the conflicts between Loring and Limestone, the town opted to give Loring one more month to negotiate a payment plan.

Loring had been paying Limestone $20,000 for police protection since 2015 but never received an invoice for fire service, said Loring Development Authority President and CEO Carl Flora.

In a 30-day notice sent to Flora on July 26, former town manager Alvin Lam said that Limestone’s average annual fire department cost is $100,000. The town sent Loring a bill that includes $35,000 per year for fire service, 35 percent of the fire department’s budget.

Limestone’s former police department cost the town approximately $400,000 per year, the notice states. That means Loring owes the town $140,000 per year, covering from 2015 to 2022, for 35 percent of the police department’s budget.

“Loring has only paid $20,000 per year [for police] so there is a carryover balance due of $120,000 annually, or $960,000 total,” Lam said.

Loring Job Corps Director Kristie Moir (third from right) listens with Job Corps employees Roger Felix (second from right) and Donna Fournier (right) during a town meeting regarding the town’s fire services on Loring Commerce Center. (Melissa Lizotte | Aroostook Republican)

The total requests for fire and police — $280,000 and $960,000, respectively — bring Loring’s total bill to $1,240,000, Lam said.

Limestone based its calculations for fire and police budgets on 35 percent of landmass on Loring property that the town cannot receive tax revenue for. Loring Development Authority owned the entire commerce center prior to Green 4 Maine’s purchase.

Flora disagreed with the town’s calculation because some of the land that is untaxable by the town is owned by the Mi’kmaq Nation, part of Aroostook National Wildlife Refuge or located in Caswell.

On Wednesday, Loring Development Authority’s board of directors agreed after an executive session to pay Limestone $35,000 during fiscal year 2023-24, with monthly payments of $2,916.67.

Limestone Select Board members did not formally accept that agreement. Instead, they said they want to continue negotiations with Loring’s board of directors. If both sides do not reach an agreement by Sept. 30, Limestone will likely cut off fire protection, Brooker said.

Flora attributed Loring’s inability to pay the full $1.2 million to significant financial losses that Loring Development Authority experienced after multiple large companies left the commerce center.

Maine Military Authority used to be Loring’s largest employer, paying $750,000 in monthly rent and employing 1,600 people at its peak. But after years of layoffs, that company closed in 2018. 

Sitel, a customer service call center, moved to Caribou in 2015 and later closed completely. Hydroblend, a food processing center, closed in 2019. Combined, those companies employed more than 200 people. Flora did not specify how much each company paid in monthly rent.

Flora said during a Loring board meeting Wednesday that Loring officials have had conversations with Caribou Fire & Ambulance about backup plans for fire protection, but prefer to try to resolve conflicts with Limestone first.

Several Loring Job Corps officials expressed concerns Thursday evening about what they called a lack of communication from the Loring Development Authority on the potential to no longer have fire services.

Kristie Moir, director of Loring Job Corps Center, explained that Job Corps is owned by the U.S. Department of Labor. Without fire protection, the federal government would force Job Corp to send all 150 students home and keep all 130 employees away from the campus, Moir said.

Brooker said the Select Board opted not to cut off fire service partly so that Job Corps, Defense Finance and Accounting Service and other employers at Loring can be better informed of the situation.

Correction: A previous version of this story misstated Loring Development Authority’s payment offer to Limestone.