A request at a special town meeting May 22 to get a jump on a new $600,000 fire truck purchase reopened debate over whether the town should buy the truck at all.

Voters approved the purchase earlier this year at their annual town meeting on the recommendation of Fire Chief Bill Gillespie, who urged them to invest in new equipment rather than continuing to buy used as the town has in the past.

On May 22, they approved it again, but not without debate and hand-wringing over the large expense, which would put the town on the hook for annual bond payments of between $30,000 and $40,000 for 15 years.

Under terms approved in March and again May 22, the town will borrow $420,000, take $100,000 from surplus and exhaust a $113,000 capital reserve account that had been built up with annual contributions over a number of years.

What differed this time around was the source of the money.

The March article said the town would borrow from Maine Municipal Bond Bank, which typically offers the lowest interest rates because of its large risk pool. But Gillespie said May 22 that the bank could not accept a bond application until October and comparable rates could be found elsewhere.

"We don't want to wait an additional four months to replace a truck that should have been replaced last year," he told The Republican Journal May 23.

For procedural reasons, this required a new vote on the purchase itself.

Thirty-one residents attended the special town meeting and though only one voted against the purchase, a number of them expressed reservations about spending so much money.

Some wanted neighboring towns to share the cost, as with the ambulance service, which is funded by equal contributions from Liberty and Montville. The ambulance service differs because it is not run by the town, and Gillespie said other towns have specialty vehicles that benefit Liberty through local and statewide mutual aid agreements.

The fire chief detailed the current fleet, which includes a 2000 pump truck with 17 years of regular wear and tear, a 1988 ladder truck with a failing hydraulic system, leaking pump and bad brakes, an old ambulance used to transport Jaws of Life extrication tools and other equipment, a forestry truck and a pickup truck.

The old ambulance would go out of service. The new truck would be outfitted to hold the Jaws.

A fire department with more volunteers could use regular ladders to accomplish a similar level of protection to a new ladder truck, he said, but Liberty doesn't have enough workers to do that.

He pointed to two firefighters standing next to him. "What you see here is your fire department," he said.

A third, Deputy Fire Chief Tobey Kress, who was seated, worried the town was putting money ahead of firefighter safety by forcing the department to make do with failing equipment.

"My life is more important than a few dollars on your tax bill," he said.

Emergency Management Association Director Elise Brown said the department might be able to fix its old equipment if it had more volunteers. Likewise voters could invest in new equipment to make up for a lack of manpower. But they couldn't have it both ways.

"We're burning people out, and we have to pony up with our money or our labor," she said. "If we don't want to spend the money, sign up."

This time around, the question of whether to buy a new fire truck was debated in the shadow of another looming expense.

Town officials expect a dam on Lake St. George may need major repairs soon. Road Commissioner Tammy Reynolds said the cost won't be known until later this summer when water levels drop to a level that will allow a safe underwater inspection.

In 2015, Maine Department of Transportation overhauled the roadway across the town-owned dam and installed a cement box culvert. Since then, Reynolds said, water has found its way around the outside of the culvert, she believes as the result of poor construction planning by the state.

Reynolds said the state has distanced itself from the problem, leaving the town to foot the bill for repairs.

Some residents at the special town meeting worried that they wouldn't be able to afford those repairs on top of the fire truck bond payments.

Liberty has roughly $600,000 in surplus, which selectmen said was more than in past years. The fire truck would eat up $100,000, leaving up to a half-million to draw upon for dam repairs, depending upon other cash flow requirements of the town.

Reynolds was hesitant to guess at the cost, but said it would probably be in the hundreds of thousands. She anticipated holding a public meeting in late July when she has more information.