Debate and discussion about what kind of fire truck the town should buy, how the purchase should be paid for and how emergency personnel should be compensated for their required training dominated the annual town meeting here March 15.

Most of the debate and discussion centered around article 14 on the warrant, which asked for a total budget of nearly $72,000 for public safety accounts. More than one third of that amount — $25,000 — was requested to help the fire department purchase a new vehicle.

Outgoing Fire Chief Ron Wellman, who was replaced by Ron Harford II during municipal elections held at the beginning of the meeting, explained the $25,000 had been included in the budget to help replace one of the fire department’s older vehicles. He said a used, 21-year-old truck was being considered.

Harford, speaking after Wellman, said he favored buying a brand-new tanker truck in order to help the town better comply with increasing safety regulations and requirements.

The price tag for such a vehicle, according to Harford, would likely fall on either side of $180,000, which the town might then finance over a 10-year period. He said the $25,000 figure could be used as a down payment for such a truck.

Harford said he saw some problems with the used 1989 model, including that it has a standard transmission and that it is too big for the fire department building. He said the fire station would have to be modified to make room for the vehicle.

Selectwoman Barbara Bubar addressed Wellman and said she thought he had told her the 1989 truck would fit in the current building without any work being done.

“You asked me how it was going to fit in there, and I said I was going to back it in there and then call the insurance company,” Wellman replied. He added he did not intend that to be taken seriously.

Discussion then drifted away from the article at hand — despite moderator Lee Woodward’s efforts to keep the conversation focused — and went toward the issue of how the town might pay for a new truck in the price range of $180,000.

The question of whether the $25,000 figure could be amended and increased to the full cost of a new truck was shot down almost as quickly as it was asked. The prospect of taking out a loan was then considered, though Bubar said flatly that such a move would be a first for the town.

“Belmont has never taken out a loan,” she said, although others questioned that. In any event, Woodward reminded voters, a loan could not be considered during Monday’s meeting because it hadn’t been included on the warrant.

A motion was made to amend the article and increase the amount requested for a new truck to $35,000, because that is what Wellman said was needed as a starting amount to secure the used truck being considered. After discussion and debate, the higher figure passed on a vote of 18-8.

The article, as amended, was then approved without further discussion. Woodward suggested the proper procedure going forward would be for fire department officials to present a plan to selectmen, who could then go to at least two banks or other financial institutions and look at their financing options. In response to a question, Woodward said the process would probably take a couple of months.

Earlier in the meeting, members of the fire department successfully lobbied for a change in article 3, which addressed how they are compensated; specifically, they succeeded in securing compensation for the training they take part in over the course of the year.

As presented in the warrant at the start of Monday’s meeting, “Emergency Personal [sic] wages are $25.00 per quarter, plus $10.00 per completed page [emergency call] or $7.00 per hour if more than two hours. Payable quarterly as amended.”

The $25 figure, it was explained, is paid only if a member of the department attends all required meetings in that three-month period. Regarding compensation for emergency events, one firefighter offered a hypothetical example of a six-hour fire call. That would result in a payment of $38 — $10 for the first two hours, and $28 for the other four.

Members of the fire department estimated the average firefighter in Belmont spends 30 hours per year training, “oftentimes at a personal economic loss,” said one firefighter. Emergency medical technicians, they said, have to put in more time than that.

Stephen Hopkins, who serves as the town’s representative on the RSU 20 school board, suggested paying emergency personnel $7 per hour for each hour they spend training. Someone suggested differentiating between firefighters and EMTs, but Woodward said that was going to get too complicated.

Betsy Catanzaro suggested putting a cap on the number of hours of training an individual could be compensated for, as she said that would help the town with budgeting. Hopkins amended his original motion to include a cap of 40 training hours per volunteer, and the amended motion was handily approved.

Other pay increases in article 3 included the treasurer’s post (up $1/hour, to $13.50/hour), the town clerk’s post and the assessors (both up $2/hour, to $12/hour).

In other business Monday night, Belmont voters:

• Decided to keep the following offices appointed ones, rather than filling them through the election process: health officer, constable, animal control officer, emergency management agency director, code enforcement officer, planning board members, licensed plumbing inspector and road commissioner. Several residents recalled the difficulty the town used to have in finding people to run for those offices, and wondered why the town would want to return to that system. Others questioned whether the switch from elected to appointed had ever been done properly, while some raised the question of proper qualifications and whether those could be assured through elections. When the vote was taken, only two hands were seen in support, while many were seen in opposition.

• Approved an article calling for a “committee to review and recommend changes in the existing comprehensive plan.” Bubar explained this article was the result of feedback from people applying for permits in the past year, who wished to see some areas currently classified as rural/residential rezoned as commercial. Near the end of the meeting, voters defeated another article that would have made that kind of change along a portion of Route 3, after Bubar recommended the article not be approved. She said that was just the kind of issue the soon-to-be-formed committee could address.

• Turned down a request from a representative of Waldo Community Action Partners to fund the group’s full request of $4,565. “In article 14, we gave the dead folks more than that,” the representative said, referring to the $6,500 approved for cemetery maintenance. WCAP was instead treated the same as other social service agencies, which — following the recommendation of town officials — each received half of their requested funding from the town. For WCAP, that equals $2,282.50.

• Re-elected Bubar, Sharon Reed-Hall and Carmine Pecorelli to the three-member select board, despite the fact that Pecorelli was not in attendance Monday night. Some in the audience seemed to take a certain delight in re-electing Pecorelli in absentia, prompting Woodward to comment, “That’s the thing to do.” Also re-elected were Kristen Waterman as tax collector, treasurer and registrar of voters and Anita Wellman as town clerk and election warden.

• Approved increasing the town’s property tax levy limit (the so-called LD 1 limit), after town officials determined the municipal budget’s bottom line exceeded that cap. The tax levy limit established by law for Belmont is $180,000, while the budget came in with a bottom line of $218,469.33 (an overage of $38,469.33). Town officials noted this increase was due almost entirely to the $35,000 approved for the new fire truck.

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