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A measure that would have provided $4 million for a new fire hall in Laurel was defeated Tuesday, 1,296 to 1,584, but city officials said the community still needs a fire hall, and the issue will likely come up again.

The Laurel Volunteer Fire Department shares space with the Laurel Police Department and volunteer ambulance service at 215 W. First Ave. As the community has grown, so have city services, putting a squeeze on all three agencies.

If voters had approved the measure, a new fire hall would have been built at 704 First Ave, which planners said would have been more centrally located.

It would have been able to house all of the department's equipment with space for more if needed.

The fire department serves the city and outlying fire districts in an area that covers about 120 square miles.

The fire department was started to serve the city of Laurel, which has a population of about 6,500. When the population exceeds 7,500, state statute will require Laurel to have a full-time, paid fire department, and if Laurel continues to grow like it has, it will likely exceed the population threshold by the next U.S. Census in 2010.

"We will still need a new fire station," said Bill Sheridan, chief administrative officer for the city of Laurel. "Now, it's just a matter of when."

Taxpayers in Laurel have supported three school building bonds in the past few years, passing a $3.4 million bond in 2004 to remodel the high school and a $10.4 million bond to build a new middle school. In a September mail ballot election, voters approved a $3.7 million sports complex.

The close vote and recent support of schools indicate that voters want to support their community, Sheridan said.

City Council members and other local officials will begin talking soon about another run at building a new fire station, but Sheridan said he didn't know how soon it would come up in another election.

"In the future, we'll start with a clean slate and hopefully come up with something positive," Sheridan said.

Contact Laura Tode at ltode@billingsgazette.com or 657-1392.

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