BIDDEFORD — The City Council voted 8-1 Monday to approve a $27.75 million city government budget for fiscal year 2016, although another affirmative vote is needed before the budget is officially passed.

This new number is $500,000 less than an earlier version of the budget, which previously topped $28 million.

A motion by Council Chair John McCurry to remove $500,000 from the proposed city budget passed by a 6-3 vote, and a motion by Councilor Michael Ready to cut $6,800 from the Downtown Development Commission passed by an 8-1 vote.

The council ruled City Manager John Bubier will decide what areas to cut in the proposed budget. However, following a separate motion by McCurry, councilors also voted 5-4 to prohibit the reductions from coming out of the $1.47 million currently built into the budget for paving projects.

Despite the council’s decision to protect the money set aside for paving, there’s no guarantee those funds will remain in the budget. In an interview last month, Bubier said the city might seek a bond, which would have to be approved by voters in the November election, to pay for the paving projects.

That could be a risky move, though. In the past few years, bonds to pay for paving have failed at the ballot box.

Before the votes, resident and former City Councilor Richard Rhames accused city officials of not listening to the public’s calls, including his own, for fewer cuts in both the school and city budgets.

“I think it’s largely irrelevant what we say,” he said. “The fix is in, the fix has been in.”

Resident and former Biddeford Fire Chief Rick Plummer, who now serves as fire chief in Old Orchard Beach, also called for fewer cuts, specifically when it concerns city services.

“Personally, I don’t mind paying a little more in taxes to know when I pick up the phone I’m going to get the services that I need,” said Plummer. “I think that over the last few years the City Council has done a good job at trying to keep our taxes low, but in the same token, I think you’ve cut and cut and cut and cut, and I don’t see any place more to cut.”

“Sometimes I think you make cuts just to make cuts,” he went on, “just to make it look good that you’re keeping our tax rate low.”

Plummer also told city officials about a medical emergency involving his wife, which occurred last month, and used the story to illustrate why he thinks the city should be increasing the budget to improve public safety.

Plummer said after he called 911, the Biddeford Fire Department responded with a fire truck but no ambulance. He and his wife instead had to wait for an ambulance to arrive from Arundel, he said.

“Having 1 1/2 ambulances staffed and playing Russian roulette with the city of Biddeford needs to stop,” he said.

Biddeford Deputy Fire Chief Scott Gagne confirmed Wednesday that the department was dealing with multiple calls at the time and couldn’t send an ambulance to assist Plummer’s wife.

Gagne explained that the department, which has three ambulances, currently only has the manpower to staff one ambulance at all times, while a second ambulance is “cross-staffed” with personnel who split their time between an ambulance and a fire truck.

The department should, however, have enough employees to staff two ambulances 24-7, while cross-staffing a third, said Gagne.

“Our calls are going up continuously and we are to the point where we can no longer absorb any additional call volume,” he said. “We need additional personnel.”

Gagne said the department originally asked for budget funds for four additional staff members but was told no additional personnel would be hired by this city this year.

Curt Koehler, the city’s finance director, acknowledged Wednesday that the need to staff another ambulance is going up, but it’s not yet “financially prudent” to do so. Koehler said the department also requested to have one of its ambulances replaced, and $25,000 is currently in the budget to make a down payment on that vehicle, which the city will lease for several years.

The $27.75 million city budget coupled with the local share of the school budget, which the council approved at $19.65 million last week, translates to an approximately 90 cent rise in the mil rate for the next fiscal year, according to Koehler.

The council will again review the budget next Wednesday, and residents will have a chance to vote on the school budget on June 11.

— Staff Writer Angelo J. Verzoni can be contacted at 282-1535, ext. 329 or [email protected]

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