Limestone still demanding that Loring pay more for fire service

2 months ago

LIMESTONE, Maine — Limestone officials might still vote to cut off the former Loring Air Force Base from fire protection if Loring officials do not pay what the town has demanded for those services.

In August, Limestone’s Select Board claimed that the Loring Development Authority owes the town $1.2 million for fire and police protection dating back to 2015. Limestone closed its police department this year but continued providing fire protection, as it has done since 2015.

Since then, Loring offered to pay Limestone $35,000 for the 2023-24 fiscal year, which would equal monthly payments of $2,916.67, said Carl Flora, Loring Development Authority president and CEO.

Now Limestone’s Select Board is requesting that Loring pay $280,000 for fiscal year 2023-24 before Sept. 29, said Interim Town Manager Alan Mulherin. The town would accept a payment plan toward that total amount from the Loring Development Authority.

The Select Board sent their latest response to Loring officials Thursday morning after an executive session Wednesday night. They also demanded that Loring condemn unsafe, vacant apartment buildings on Manser Drive and repair nearby roads that are littered with potholes. The Select Board’s requests come when Loring might see its first major business developments in years, with the town wanting a stronger say in what services they provide there.

“We want verifiable actions taken on Manser Drive by Sept. 29,” Mulherin said. “That means we want to go there and actually see the potholes fixed, fences around the unsafe buildings and boarded windows.”

Flora said that five blighted buildings on Manser Drive are scheduled for demolition and the neighborhood’s roads are set for redesigns and repairs through a $3.1 million grant that Loring received from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development two years ago.

HUD is responsible for those projects and will have a clearer timeline after environmental tests are completed, Flora said. He did not specify a potential timeline for the project.

Loring had been paying $20,000 per year for police protection since 2015, but never signed a contract with the town to pay a certain amount for fire services, said Loring Board of Directors Chairperson Jeremy Fisher.

During a Thursday meeting, Loring board members said that paying $280,000 would not be possible, even in installments, because of a projected Loring budget shortfall of $19,250 for fiscal year 2023-24.

“Our budget speaks for itself,” Fisher said. “We have to make up a nearly $20,000 debt and don’t have the money to do what the town has requested.”

The board did not vote to accept or reject Limestone’s counter-offer during an executive session Thursday. Flora did not indicate when he might reach out to town officials for further negotiations.

In a 30-day notice sent to Loring on July 26, town officials demanded that Loring pay $35,000 per year for fire service, which covers 35 percent of the town’s fire budget of $100,000. They also requested 35 percent of their former police department’s budget, $140,000 per year.

Over an eight-year period, that would bring the town’s total requests for fire and police to $280,000 and $960,000, respectively, said Special Projects Manager Alvin Lam, who was town manager at the time.

On Aug. 31, the town voted to postpone cutting off Loring from fire protection until at least Sept. 29. The decision came after Loring Job Corps officials warned that without fire protection, the U.S. Department of Labor could shut down the facilities and send students home.

Loring does not have a back-up plan for providing fire protection if Limestone withdraws their services on Sept. 30, Flora said. Caribou Fire & Ambulance, the nearest provider, said that taking on more coverage area is not currently possible.

Loring’s board is in discussions with the Maine Attorney General’s Office and the state fire marshal on whether Limestone has legal authority to cut off services, Flora said.

“Loring is not a municipality. Whether we’re talking about Green 4 Maine or Defense Finance Accounting Service, they are all located in Limestone,” Flora said.

Limestone’s Select Board plans to meet at 6:30 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 29, in the town office at 93 Main St. to vote on whether to cut off fire services at Loring.