Edgecomb approves full-time fire chief, school budget

Tue, 05/21/2024 - 10:30am

The town of Edgecomb will have a full-time municipal fire chief in July. On May 17, residents approved creating a full-time chief, 33-31, during the annual town meeting. Article 18 received the most debate, and was the closest vote during the 4.5-hour, 66-article town meeting.

While voters resolved the question of a full-time chief, that created another question regarding compensation for the new position and entire department. Residents voted down No. 19, $57,511 for fire department salaries. The proposal included $13,110 as a stipend for a part-time chief and pay raises for officers and firefighters. 

During the debate, outgoing Selectman Mike Smith reported Fire Chief Roy Potter submitted a proposed job description which included a $62,400 salary, three weeks’ vacation and no heath benefits. 

During floor debate, resident David Nutt opposed creating a full-time chief. “I do not believe the town can afford a full-time fire chief, nor do I believe one is needed,” he said. “If Roy is overwhelmed, he needs to delegate down the chain of command.” 

Potter disagreed. He reported the department first requested a full-time fire chief discussion back in 2015. He reinforced the department’s need for a full-time chief. “The pager is going off, and there is no one to answer it,” he said. “We are down to 12 members so we can’t really delegate. We had three recent calls, I responded to two, but there was nobody for the third. We are at a critical point.”

Potter is also president of the Lincoln County Fire Chiefs’ Association. “A lot of towns are looking at what happens here today,” he told residents.

Selectmen opposed four warrant articles with three being fire department related. Selectmen disagreed with proposals for a full-time chief, department pay and training wages, and the amount for truck replacement. The fire department proposed $33,000 be placed in a truck replacement fund. Selectmen proposed $20,000. On this question, residents sided with selectmen and approved an amended article for $20,000.

There was considerable debate regarding officer and firefighter pay. These articles were defeated, and will be reconsidered at the special town meeting. The fire department’s original proposal was a 15% salary increase based on a budget with a part-time chief. 

During the full-time chief debate, Smith admitted the board understands challenges presented to small municipal fire departments. He pointed toward an increasing number of state and federal mandates. Where the two sides differ is on the decision’s timing. “Roy is right, he is overwhelmed,” Smith said. “But this is not something the board supports at this time. It was put on the warrant out of respect to Roy to at least start the discussion.” 

Selectmen plan to hold a special town meeting, possibly as soon as mid-June, to approve a salary and benefit package for the full-time position and readjust pay for fire department officers, firefighters and training. These articles were rejected due to the uncertainty of the full-time chief’s compensation.

The proposed combined $6,012,686 municipal and education budget represented a 17.22% increase in town assessment. The total budget was reduced by $150,000 when voters approved the final article. The school committee proposed $200,000 for the student reserve account. This was the fourth article selectmen recommended a “No” vote on. School Committee Chair Heather Sinclair recommended reducing the proposal to $50,000.

The proposed school budget was $3,098,672 and was eventually reduced by $150,000. The most debated school article was No. 47 for Regular Instruction, a $2,181,157 proposal. Selectmen recommended a “No” vote. A secret ballot was held, and the proposal prevailed 41-20.

Prior to the meeting, selectmen announced Andy Abello as their choice for the town’s 2023 “Spirit of America” volunteer recipient. The Boothbay Register counted 65 residents participating in the meeting.