Woolwich decides to keep ambulance service local

Thu, 05/18/2023 - 4:00pm

    Woolwich voters decided to keep their ambulance service rather than hire Bath Fire & Rescue at their annual town meeting, Wednesday evening, May 17. They approved monies for providing broadband internet service and passed an ordinance regulating future solar projects. The 2023-24 municipal budget approved amounted to a little over $2.43 million.

    Just over 100 voters were on hand in the Woolwich Central School gymnasium for the meeting’s start. The town has over 2,700 registered voters. John Chapman served as moderator.

    As expected, the longest discussion, over 40 minutes, concerned the choice of ambulance services. From the outset it was clear the majority preferred to continue funding the town’s EMS department. When Chapman called for a voice vote, the “ayes” were in nearly unanimous in support raising $360,844 to continue having Woolwich EMS provide 24/7 ambulance coverage.

    During the discussion, Brian Carlton, EMS director, estimated the ambulance department would take in $97,500 in revenues over the coming year to offset operational costs. Woolwich EMS has provided the town with 24/7 ambulance service since July 2019. Carlton said the ambulance service was on pace to have its busiest year. “We’re pushing 360 calls.” Year to date, the department had taken in $82,000 in revenue, added Carlton. Contracting with Bath Fire & Rescue to become the town’s ambulance provider would have cost $316,320.

    One voter asked Carlton why he had cut the yearly stipend paid to the EMS/ambulance director from $10,000 to $5,000. Carlton said it was because staff would be taking on more responsibility. Selectboard Chairman David King Sr. said lowering the stipend would make it harder to hire a new ambulance director. Carlton recently announced he is leaving the job July 1. Overall, the payroll line of the ambulance budget rose from $183,000 to $236,925. 

    In a nearly unanimous vote, voters agreed to move forward on bringing broadband internet service to town. Passage of the article authorized selectmen to work with Consolidated Communications in pursuit of $250,000 in matching grant monies from Maine Connectivity Authority. The article likewise authorized $112,500 to be taken from the town’s undesignated fund balance for payment of 2023-2024 matching funds for the first year of a two-year payment plan if the grant is awarded.

    Article 45, the proposed solar ordinance and the last one on the agenda, proved to be the closest vote of the evening. Following a short discussion, it passed on a show of hands, 59-27, with the understanding some verbiage within the ordinance needed minor clarification. The ordinance establishes performance standards for residential, commercial and industrial solar energy systems including solar farms. The new guidelines include height restrictions for roof-mounted solar systems and setback requirements for ground-mounted solar panels. Furthermore, the ordinance sets solar energy system (SES) application fees and addresses the removal of solar arrays no longer being used to generate electricity.

    This year’s town budget included cost of living increases for the town administrator, town clerk, tax collector and code enforcement officer but no increase in the stipends paid to selectmen. The select board based the 6% raises on the Consumer Price Index Urban. The article passed unanimously.

    The sum of $245,888 was raised to continue weekly curbside trash pickup, and bi-weekly recycling collection with Riverside Disposal of Chelsea and continue the town’s membership with EcoMaine of Portland for its services.

    Without comment, voters approved the $867,375 roads and bridges budget and approved spending another $40,000 for repairs and maintenance of unpaved roads. They quickly passed without discussion a 2023-24 fire department budget of $170,858.

    In an effort to speed up the proceedings, a number of articles were bundled together and voted on. Voters relieved the moderator from having to read lengthy line items as well.

    With little discussion, voters raised $63,231 for continued financial support of Patten Free Library in Bath. They went along, too, with the selectboard’s recommendation for discontinuing a portion of George Wright Road, where it formerly connected with Route 1 before construction on the new Station 46 Bridge began. In other business, Patrice Hennin was appointed by unanimous approval to a five-year term as a fish commissioner.

    Geraldine Edgerly of Murphy’s Corner Road who recently celebrated her 100th birthday was recognized at the start of the meeting. The selectboard dedicated this year’s Town Report to her for her many years of involvement in community organizations. Dale Reno, a local contractor, was named as this year’s “Spirit of America” recipient. Reno donated his manpower to repair and repaint a portion of the Old Town Meeting House and had done other work at the town office including mold remediation.

    Before adjourning, Chapman announced this would be his final town meeting serving as moderator. Chapman, 91, has been Woolwich’s moderator for all but three town meetings since 1982. He left to applause from the audience.

    Selectman Jason Shaw likened Chapman’s retirement to the end of an era. “I have the utmost respect for him. John served on the Woolwich Select Board with my grandfather Ivan Shaw in the 1960s, he’s also a former Maine state senator. It’s going to be strange not seeing him behind the podium with a gavel in his hand. We’ll miss his fairness and sense of humor which made him such an effective town meeting moderator.”

    Voting by referendum ballot on the proposed 2023-24 Regional School Unit 1 budget will take place Tuesday, June 13; the polls at the town office will be open from 9 to 6. Woolwich’s share is $4.71 million, an $82,145 increase from last year.