A year after voting to raise a total of $12,500 to pursue legal action against one of the town’s two fire departments and to explore leaving SAD 56/RSU 20, voters at Frankfort’s annual town meeting March 26 decided not to put any money aside for those purposes this year.

Both issues, however, were discussed again this year.

Article 7 on this year’s warrant asked if the town would “raise and/or appropriate the sum of $2,000 for the purpose of hiring counsel to assist in efforts to leave RSU 20 and join MSAD 22 or another adjacent school district.”

Last year, voters approved $7,500 for that purpose. This year, Selectman Allan Gordon Jr. advised townspeople they didn’t really need to put any money aside for the matter because “the Legislature is enacting changes to the consolidation law.” He didn’t specify what those changes were, but added, “We probably don’t need to hire counsel, at this point.”

With no additional discussion, voters followed Gordon’s suggestion and approved setting no money aside for the school district issue.

The next article asked if selectmen would be authorized to “continue pursuing legal action against the West Frankfort Fire Department Inc. to obtain return of the title to the 2006 Sterling fire truck and clarify ownership of the truck, or act thereon.”

Unlike the preceding question, this article sparked some discussion. An initial attempt to pass over the article and take no action failed, with 23 in favor and 33 opposed.

Sandra Anderson, wife of Fire Chief Earl Anderson Sr., of the Village Fire Department, made a motion to approve the article. She then added that she wanted the vote done by secret ballot, which required a separate vote. That caused some confusion, prompting Anderson to withdraw her motion.

“Because obviously some people don’t understand English,” commented someone near Anderson.

Alan Hammond said he didn’t like the idea of the town’s taking legal action against the West Frankfort Fire Department, and suggested selectmen and WFFD officials “in good faith, resolve this issue.”

“Pursuing legal action is not a course of action I would support,” said Hammond.

Greg Tang, a WFFD member, gave an explanation of some of the background and history of the issue. He asserted that because a large percentage of the funding for the vehicle had come from the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Assistance to Firefighters Grants program, “regardless of the title, it’s FEMA’s.”

Tang said the town should feel blessed to have two fire departments, and that residents should stop fighting amongst themselves. He said if the matter was not resolved, it might eventually prompt FEMA to reclaim the truck.

Earl Anderson Sr., in response to some discussion about how many firefighting vehicles the town can have that are purchased, in part, with FEMA funds, said the town could now have as many as three such vehicles.

“Great, so we can start another fire department,” quipped one resident.

Several people offered the opinion that because town tax dollars had gone toward the purchase of the truck, it should simply belong to the town.

Gordon explained that after getting approval from townspeople last year, the town had its attorney draw up a proposed settlement with the WFFD. He described it as a “typical settlement agreement,” which would have put the title in the town’s name and allowed WFFD to keep the truck.

“They hired a lawyer and fired back,” said Gordon.

Gordon then read a letter from the town’s attorney, which essentially advised the town that pursuing the matter further would be a costly venture with no quick resolution in sight. Gordon said selectmen were inclined to see the whole matter as “a lesson learned in dealing with that department.

“With no foreseeable end, with no foreseeable outcome, I don’t want to waste my money,” said Gordon. He later clarified his statement, saying he just didn’t want to see his money spent on the matter (rather than describing it as a waste).

Gordon estimated that the town had spent $3,000 on the matter so far (voters approved raising $5,000 for the purpose last year), and one resident said they hated the thought of having spent that much money without having the matter resolved.

“In the legal world, you haven’t spent much yet,” said Gordon.

For his part, WFFD Fire Chief Roy Stone tried to reassure residents about what would happen with the truck.

“I plan on doing everything in my power to keep that truck in this town, fighting fires,” he said. “You won’t have to worry about it being sold, or going anywhere else.”

When the vote was called, those opposed to authorizing the selectmen to continue pursing legal action were in the majority. On the following question, which asked how much (if any) money the town would set aside for the legal action mentioned in Article 8, a motion to pass over the article and take no action was quickly approved.

Following the discussions on the fire department articles, Earl Anderson Sr. attempted to smooth things over by describing how the town’s two departments do training work together and also work together at fires and other emergency scenes.

“So I don’t want the townspeople to think it’s really the fire departments that are fighting,” he said.

“Why would we think that?” asked one resident.

In other business, a flawed procedure on one vote involving taxes and incorrect information on another vote involving the interest rate on late taxes will require the town to hold a special town meeting to fix the mistakes.

In the first order of business Friday evening, voters addressed the so-called LD 1 article, which asked if they would “increase the property tax levy limit, established for Frankfort by state law,” in the event that the budget approved that night required more from taxes than the law specifies.

Gordon said the proposed budget would require less from taxes than the previous year’s budget had, but suggested it would be a good idea to approve the question just in case. Voters did so, in a show-of-hands vote.

However, resident Althea Baker questioned this vote following the meeting and said state law requires the vote on the LD 1 question to be done by secret ballot. She presented this information to selectmen March 29, and they agreed there had been a procedural error.

This means the town will now have to hold a special town meeting to correct that mistake.

Another error, also brought to light after the meeting by Baker, involved article 68. That article asked if voters would set a due date for property taxes (they decided on Oct. 31) and to see what interest rate the town would charge on taxes that are not paid by that date.

Each year, the state sets a maximum rate of interest that towns can charge on late taxes. Towns can choose to use that number, or any lower figure. Selectmen reported this year’s maximum was 9 percent, and urged approval of that figure.

During Friday’s meeting, Baker asked if the town might lower the rate in light of the current economic conditions. Gordon said the town has to collect taxes, and that setting a lower rate might lessen the incentive for people to pay their taxes on time.

“The reason we charge it is so that we can get people to pay their taxes,” he said. He later added the state sets each year’s rate for a reason, rather than selecting it at random.

After a bit more discussion, the vote was called, and the question appeared to pass on a show-of-hands vote. Ballot clerks were called to count the hands, and on the second show of hands, the question easily carried.

Baker researched the issue after the meeting, and learned the maximum interest rate this year is 7 percent. She also brought this issue to the attention of selectmen at their March 29 meeting, and after some discussion with them, Baker said they conceded that she was right.

The interest rate issue will now also have to be voted on at a special town meeting. In related news, Baker said she is working on circulating a petition that would get the town to offer a discount — her proposal is 2 percent — to anyone who pays their property taxes early.

Depending on when selectmen decide to hold a special town meeting to address the LD 1 and interest rate issues, and also on when Baker submits her petition for the tax discount proposal, all three issues might be addressed at the same meeting.

Frankfort town officials confirmed March 31 that Baker had presented information to selectmen at their March 29 meeting, and that a special town meeting would be necessary to address the issues she raised. No date has yet been set for that meeting, although officials said the meeting will take place before the taxes are committed.