Jim Dittmeier has a question for anyone who dislikes his recent comments about a proposed liquefied petroleum gas terminal at Mack Point.

Does anyone have a better idea for bringing in more jobs and tax dollars into town?

Discussions at the Tuesday, Dec. 6 selectmen’s meeting included some criticism of Dittmeier, who serves as the town’s fire chief, for a Nov. 16 post that appeared on the Searsport Fire Department’s Facebook page that offered his personal thoughts about the ongoing debate over the development proposal from Colorado-based DCP Midstream to construct a 22.7-million-gallon LPG tank at Mack Point.

The post, which no longer appears on the SFD Facebook page but still shows up on Dittmeier’s personal Facebook page, encouraged the “silent majority” of people in town who support the potential development to share their views with the town’s selectmen. He further stated that the development could bring jobs for young people and provide more tax dollars for the town.

Dittmeier also described local opponents of the development as “a few people that just want the town to stay this way and die.” In closing, Dittmeier suggested, “maybe we should have a sign that says ‘Searsport, Town of Complainers who are against everything.'”

Fanning the flames of the debate was the fact that Dittmeier also submitted a letter to the editor that ran in the Dec. 1 issue of the VillageSoup Journal, in which he reiterated his position. In that letter, Dittmeier specified he was expressing his opinion as a taxpayer and not as the town’s fire chief.

Resident Anne Crimaudo took Dittmeier to task for his comments Tuesday night.

“He insults the people who own businesses,” said Crimaudo, noting that Dittmeier’s statements inferred that those who are against the development are only concerned about their own businesses.

Crimaudo added that if Dittmeier is so concerned about the number of jobs in town, he should “certainly be concerned about the businesses that are already here.”

There were a few statements in Dittmeier’s letter to the editor that Crimaudo questioned the accuracy of, in particular the $400,000 figure he stated the town would get in new taxes if DCP Midstream were to come to town. She said she checked that fact with Searsport Tax Assessor Bill Terry.

“That would be news to the tax assessor, who doesn’t know what that number is yet,” she said.

Crimaudo also commented on Dittmeier’s use of the word “complainers” to describe those who have signed on to a petition seeking an article in the March 2012 town meeting warrant that would ask voters to support a six-month moratorium on all LPG developments. At Tuesday’s meeting, selectmen unanimously agreed to place such an article in the town meeting warrant.

“There are a lot of people who signed this petition who are not necessarily against the tank, they just want more information,” she said. “This is a big deal.”

Some in the audience could be heard murmuring words of agreement after Crimaudo finished speaking.

Searsport resident Peter Taber did not refer to Dittmeier by name, but told the board that one town official had recently been “outrageously outspoken” and in doing so had shown “a lack of respect for other people in this town.”

Dittmeier was not present at Tuesday night’s meeting but spoke with VillageSoup Wednesday morning, Dec. 7. He said he is in favor of anything that will bring jobs to town and offer a boost to the tax base.

“If somebody has an alternative that would bring in the same amount of jobs and taxes to town, that’s great, but guess what? They don’t want anything,” said Dittmeier, referring to people in the area who have expressed opposition to the DCP proposal. “If we could find a factory that makes rainbows I’d be really happy.”

Dittmeier said it’s tough for those who support the proposal from DCP Midstream to have their voices heard because “they actually have jobs” and cannot take as much time to attend meetings or protests and organize petition drives.

Dittmeier said he recently spent two hours at the town dump trying to gauge what kind of public support there is for the LPG terminal, and said he came back with 52 signatures of people who said they were in favor of it. He gathered five signatures of those who said they did not support the potential development.

The decision of whether the development comes in to town, he said, should be one made by Searsport residents alone.

“People are still making it look like everyone’s against this,” he said. “I object to people coming in from out of town having anything to say about it.”

Dittmeier said he’ll continue to speak out about the development as a taxpayer, and that he’s “entitled to my opinion” even if it doesn’t match that of some of his neighbors in town.

Later Wednesday morning, Searsport Town Manager James Gillway contacted VillageSoup and said he had spoken with Dittmeier about the Facebook posting, calling it a mistake.

“I personally dealt with that,” said Gillway, adding that he had spoken with Dittmeier about the matter Wednesday morning. “… We struggle as a town, especially as a small town, with people’s right to free speech versus doing a good job and projecting ourselves as rational people.”

GIllway added that he understands that sometimes town officials and municipal employees get dragged “into the fray” of controversial issues, and that it is important for all who serve the town to make it clear when they are speaking as a resident as opposed to expressing an opinion in their capacities as elected or appointed officials.

Gillway noted that under Dittmeier’s leadership, the department has grown in recent years to include more firefighters, better equipment and broader training opportunities.

Gillway referred to a national news story about a fire department in Tennessee that reportedly allowed a home to burn to the ground because the homeowners had not paid a $75 fire protection fee. He said he wants to make sure all residents know that even if they disagree with the views of Dittmeier or anyone else on the department, they can still count on the department to be there when they are needed.

“I can assure people that that will never happen in Searsport,” he said. “People may not like the person who comes to put the fire out, but we’ll always respond when someone calls,” Gillway said.