DURHAM – Apparently satisfied that municipal officials had done their best to balance tax concerns with the town’s dwindling savings account, voters at Durham’s 125th annual town meeting April 5 granted Durham Fire and Rescue a wish list that includes $210,000 for a used fire truck.

For the most part, residents voted in favor of budget recommendations from the Board of Selectmen. Article 19 was the noteworthy exception. In that voting, residents approved the Budget Committee’s suggestion to spend $776,095 for roads instead of the $744,670 recommended by selectmen.

In the end, Administrator Janet Smith said Monday after tallying all the numbers, voters went with a $2,197,164 budget that represents a 1.85 percent decrease from last year. Selectmen called for $2,177,705 in municipal spending for the new fiscal year, which amounts to a $60,791, or a 2.7 percent decrease, from this year. The Budget Committee suggested a $2,188,708 budget that is $49,788, or 2.2, percent less than this year.

The budget that was passed, Smith said, was greater then either recommendation because residents voted for the higher figure in the Fire and Rescue capital budget.

Minus other figures – the Regional School Unit 5 and Androscoggin County budgets, or any growth in town valuation – residents are looking at an increase in their taxes of about 3.7 percent. Because the town’s unassigned fund balance is down to $566,406, none of the municipal budget will be taken from the fund. That means the town must raise about $119,000 in property taxes just to meet municipal expenses.

Still, voters approved the so-called “quint” fire truck, a combination ladder-pumper that will replace 33-year-old Engine 3, by a 84-36 vote. The town will finance the $210,000 through six years, transferring $40,000 from the $152,000 Fire and Rescue capital reserve account to make the first payment.

In a slide show, Fire Chief Bill St. Michel provided the crowd at Durham Community School photographs of the beaten-down Engine 33, and scenes depicting how useful a quint engine can be on a rooftop. The old engine has a worn-out pump and an inferior attached ladder, he said.

“Repairing Engine 3 is not an option,” St. Michel said. “A quint, or a ladder, is about personal safety, it’s about reach and it’s about accessibility.”

St. Michel said that the used quint will have a life span of seven to 10 years. By the time another one is needed, the expense would be incorporated into the capital plan, he said.

Charles Pollock, a member of the Budget Committee, pointed out that a quint truck is a heavy piece of equipment that will present problems with maneuverability. St. Michel acknowledged that, but added that driveways and ground conditions are not usually the prime concern at a fire scene.

“It’s access,” the chief said.

St. Michel admitted that anyone who drives the quint truck will need special training.

Prior to the ballot vote, Mack McPeake, a resident of Rabbit Road, added some levity to the discussion.

“Any surprise is we would need a new fire house to get the sucker in,” McPeake said.

Ron Parker, Fire and Rescue chaplain, stressed that safety is a prime consideration in this acquisition. Freeport and Lisbon have the nearest ladder trucks.

“We do have structures in the town that are substantial, this one being one of them,” Parker said. “On the Pownal or Auburn side of town, it would take a long time for a Freeport or Lisbon truck to get to your home. I see it now as an essential piece for our department, not a luxury. How do you pay for safety?”

On a motion by Budget Committee member Terry Kirk, residents agreed to vote on Article 15 by secret ballot. Alice McPeake spoke for the motion from the audience.

In Article 13, residents voted for an addition of $35,000 to the Fire and Rescue capital budget, as recommended by selectmen. The Budget Committee had called for $32,000.

Milt Simon, who has sat on the Budget Committee for 15 years, said that roads marked the biggest difference between the committee and the selectmen. The Budget Committee wanted more money for paving, as indicated in Article 19.

Simon also mentioned a $200 deductible on the insurance plan for the three town employees – a number that will increase to seven employees once the town’s first Public Works Department is on the payroll. Most people “in the real world,” Simon said, pay more like $1,500 for a deductible.

Jeff Wakeman, chairman of the Board of Selectmen, responded that one of the new public works hires chose Durham because the benefits are so much better. That brought Bowie Hill Road resident Jane Rice to the podium.

“I just want to make sure it’s researched,” Rice said. “I have a $4,500 deductible. I’m just an average Joe out here, and I pay that all out of my pocket.”

Rice then asked what the town pays as its share of a family insurance plan, and Wakeman said it was $8,400.

“To me, that is, maybe we’re being a little bit too generous,” Rice said.

As the meeting began, Administrator Janet Smith said that the RSU 5 budget could have a significant bearing on the town’s tax rate. Smith reminded the audience that Durham residents are eligible to vote in the May 28 RSU 5 budget meeting in Freeport.

“I think that’s certainly a date that people can put on their calendars, and let their friends and neighbors know,” said moderator Gary Wood.

As the meeting began, outgoing Selectwoman Deborah Larrabee gave the Invocation. Larrabee will not finish the final year of her three-year term, and is being replaced by Mark Blake.

Larrabee, 59, has served the town for 36 years, starting out as a fire department dispatcher. Next, she will attend school to become a Methodist minister.

“This will be very special for me,” said Larrabee, who is a town news columnist for the Tri-Town Weekly.

No positions on Friday’s ballot for municipal elections were contested, and 4.3 percent of the town’s 3,217 registered voters went to the polls.

Incumbents Sarah Hall and Barry Baldwin received 113 and 110 votes, respectively, for the Board of Selectmen, and Blake got 124 votes to fill Larrabee’s term.

Simon got 116 votes for the Budget Committee while write-ins Michael Fitzpatrick and Mark Conway had 16 and 9, respectively. John Ricker got three votes to fill an unexpired term.

Brian Pike, who will replace Ricker on the RSU 5 Board of Directors, received 113 votes.

At the meeting, Larrabee presented the town’s Community Spirit Award to Pearl Scribner, who accepted it on behalf of the Euerka Community Center Committee.

The town report was dedicated to the memory of Denise Lacasse-LaFlamme, who died on Sept. 2, 2013, at the age of 58. Lacasse-LaFlamme was a member of the Board of Selectmen from 2007-2011, and was chairwoman from 2010-2011.

Half of town’s new department hired

Two of the four members of Durham’s first-ever Department of Public Works are in the fold, with the other two to be named later this month.

Jeff Wakeman, chairman of the Board of Selectmen, said during the annual town meeting last Saturday that Ronald Dube of Milford will be the crew foreman and operator. Dube is in the process of finding a home in the area, Wakeman said. Scott Wheelis of Bowdoin will be a mechanic/operator.

Both Dube and Wheelis will earn $20 an hour, Wakeman said. They will report to work on April 22. That leaves two truck drivers/laborers to be hired, at an unspecified salary, Wakeman said.

The new department will operate from property purchased by the town at 1099 Royalsborough Road. Durham residents approved $2.8 million to establish the department last year.

Public Works employees will answer to Shawn Bennett, who serves as road commissioner in Durham and Pownal.

– Larry Grard

Durham residents wait in line at last Saturday’s town meeting to vote on Article 15, in which they approved spending $210,000 for a used combination ladder truck/pumper for Durham Fire and Rescue. 

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