JOHN LOYD, at podium, calls a vote during Harpswell’s annual town meeting Saturday at Harpswell Community School. Voters approved a total budget of $4,332,818, an increase over the $4,047,497 spending plan approved last year. New expenses in this year’s budget include appropriations for a new dedicated daytime paramedic service to be contracted with Mid Coast Hospital, operating expenses for the vacant West Harpswell School, and funds to purchase a new marine patrol boat.

JOHN LOYD, at podium, calls a vote during Harpswell’s annual town meeting Saturday at Harpswell Community School. Voters approved a total budget of $4,332,818, an increase over the $4,047,497 spending plan approved last year. New expenses in this year’s budget include appropriations for a new dedicated daytime paramedic service to be contracted with Mid Coast Hospital, operating expenses for the vacant West Harpswell School, and funds to purchase a new marine patrol boat.

HARPSWELL — Harpswell will begin receiving dedicated daytime paramedic coverage this year from Mid Coast Hospital after voters at Saturday’s annual town meeting approved paying for the service.

That decision was part of voters’ review of 67 warrant items that resulted in a $4,332,818 budget, a 7 percent increase over last year’s $4,047,497 spending plan. That increase came just under a limit defined by state law that stipulates how much a town can increase its tax levy.

With an expected decrease in county and school budgets, a town report indicates a likely decrease in taxes from $5.80 per $ 1,000 of valuation to $ 5.76. The school budget, which will be set in June and makes up 65 percent of municipal taxes, will largely determine that final figure.

The new paramedic service contract was the largest new appropriation, but $35,000 to replace a marine patrol boat, and an amended $ 60,000 — from a recommended $70,000 — for the operation of the vacant West Harpswell School also contributed to this year’s increased budget.

The reduction in the West Harpswell School budget was the only amendment proposed and passed by the voters Saturday, cutting a $10,000 contingency fund included in that warrant item. Voters said the proposed fund conflicted with a town policy established to eliminate designated contingency funds, using a general fund that Eiane said amounts to around $49,000.

Other than that change, voters passed the remaining 66 town meeting warrant articles as written.

Townspeople also approved a new ordinance banning the sale of consumer fireworks and setting restrictions that limit use to specific hours on the nights of the Fourth of July, New Year’s Eve, and the weekends immediately before and after those holidays.

Voters also approved establishing as much as $1 million in loans for road work. Town Administrator Kristi Eiane said that town officials have compiled a list of the highest priority roads, with Peabody Road at the top. Eiane said the town has also gone to bid for repairs on other roads, including Little Island Road and Lowell’s Cove Road.

Paramedic service

Pending a final agreement, Eiane said the town could start to have dedicated daytime paramedic service as early as April, with what is called a “fly car” stationed at the town office.

That car would be staffed from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays with a paramedic trained to provide on-site emergency medical care, Eiane told voters Saturday.

Hospital transports would still be done in town-owned ambulances used by one of three Harpswell volunteer fire departments, and Eiane said the new fly-car service to be contracted through Mid Coast Health Services, which includes Mid Coast Hospital, would not limit a person’s hospital preference.

As part of the new agreement, voters approved that the Board of Selectmen enter a five-year contract with Mid Coast, totaling $ 123,000 for 2012, which includes $15,000 to provide the same regional coverage that the town currently has.

Voters also approved a $74,000 appropriation to fund the design and construction of a garage for the fly car.

Helen “Cricket” Tupper, captain of the Cundy’s Harbor volunteer fire department, spoke in support of the contract Saturday, saying that federal regulations for emergency responders and an aging population makes it harder to find volunteers.

“We’re down to two people now,” Tupper said. “ Other departments have had a similar set of nightmares — a smaller and smaller squad while the hospital has to send home more and more sick patients.”

The collaboration between a local volunteer who knows the terrain and a trained paramedic would be the “best case” for responding to emergency situations, Tupper said.

Discussion

Poll workers handed out a total of 279 voting cards to residents at Saturday’s annual town meeting, with most discussion during the fourhour meeting centering around the funding and use of West Harpswell School.

Earlier in the fall, the Board of Selectmen approved a process by which local groups could apply to use the building within certain limitations.

Eiane announced Saturday that the first application had been approved for the Ash Point Community Organization, which is working to open a community library at the school. The news surprised some voters who questioned whether approval of these uses should come before the voters at a town meeting.

“What legal authority do (the selectmen) have to dispose of the property?” former selectman Gordon Weil asked the board.

“The same authority that selectmen have over use of the town office or other buildings owned by the town,” Selectwoman Elinor Multer said. “ This was dealt with quite a while ago and there was a lot of interest in interim use, so we proceeded to make it available to local groups.”

Weil questioned the difference between town uses and the use of property by an outside local group.

“The town would be paying for facilities used by other groups,” Weil said.

Multer said the town is still deciding whether a rental fee would be applied for use of the building, and town officials said that the interim use will cut costs for insurance on the property, but increasing costs for electricity and heating.

Eiane said the total spent to keep the building vacant or to provide limited use are expected to be about equal, with utilities costs at the school the town took ownership of last year still providing some variability.

With a $ 60,000 budget approved for the operation of the building, Eiane said that town officials also plan to begin running recreational programs at the school, including bridge, yoga, basketball and volleyball.

Weil said that his questions were directed at the process and not the content of those programs.

"I’m not necessarily opposed to those activities,” Weil said. “I just question how we get to spending money on these activities.”

For the first time in three years, the historically lengthy discussion of funding for Curtis Memorial Library came to the floor after being decided by secret ballot for the past two years.

The issue was one that had divided the Board of Selectmen, with Selectwoman Alison Hawkes not recommending the appropriation that increased by around $5,000 from last year.

But only one resident voiced thoughts before the legislative body soundly approved an appropriation of $119,484 for the library.

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