On St. Patrick's Day morning in Freedom, 40 or so residents came together at the Dirigo Grange to discuss the annual report. After much debate over the next 3 1/2 hours, they approved 37 articles.

On two occasions, moderator Michael Thibodeau had to step in and tell the room to collectively cool off.

A lively debate ensued about Article 9, which dealt with appropriating $210,176 for general government, broken down into 20 items.

The sticking point came with the line item for health insurance for town employees at $14,400. This is the first year health insurance has been offered to employees of the town.

When selectmen were drilled about how many employees would actually use this benefit, it was revealed two of the nine people employed by the town are expected to sign on.

Selectman Brian Jones said, "Most of the municipal employees have insurance through their spouse."

At that point, a resident remarked about the condition of her road as "impassable." She said she had contacted selectmen but was told there was no money in the budget to fix the roads.

"As we vote to spend more money (on health care for two employees) — first we have to make sure our roads are accessible," she said.

Another resident asked, "What would be the maximum cost the town could incur if more town employees sign up for health care?"

After some quick math on a smartphone, the resident came up with a figure of $64,800.

Health insurance cannot be denied, Jones said, adding a special town meeting would be required if additional employees requested insurance coverage.

More discussion led to a motion to remove the line dealing with health insurance from Article 9 altogether, but that vote failed.

When Article 9 was ultimately put to a vote, it passed — as amended by Selectman Stephen Bennett, who said the lighting improvement line was partially paid for with a grant, and the new total for general government dropped to $198,976.

Freedom Volunteer Fire Department will now be able to recover the costs for services rendered. This will include calls to "control or confine hazardous materials, extinguish fire, or motor vehicle incident, or overall scene safety," according to the ordinance.

A list of fees also was included: personnel, $15 per hour; engines, $150 per hour; extrication, $500; Life Flight assist, $400; fire reports, $25; and a minimum call-out fee of $200.

"This will not include structure fires," Freedom Fire Chief James Waterman said.

"Most of the accidents are caused by people who transit through our town," he said. "I'm not going to charge Freedom residents."

This statement prompted leery residents to question why the language in the ordinance did not specify "Freedom residents excluded."

One resident asked, "Why are we asking for this? Don't we have funding for the Fire Department? It seems inappropriate to ask an individual to pay for something that has always been provided by the town."

Selectman Jones said there is a rider on every auto insurance policy to have emergency responders recoup expenses.

"We already pay for this insurance … moneys that are designated by the insurance company to go to the fire department to recoup expenses," Jones said.

Waterman said, "This has the potential to create a revenue stream so less funding would fall on taxpayers."

When the fire chief was asked what a typical call-out would cost, he said it would depend on the nature of the call, but typically between $750 and $1,000.

After additional and extensive deliberation, voters approved the cost recovery ordinance with 19 voting in favor and 12 opposed.

Freedom residents also addressed an ordinance prohibiting retail recreational marijuana establishments and social clubs. A 180-day ordinance previously was in place, then extended another 180 days by selectmen, but it was set to expire in May.

According to the selectmen's letter in the warrant, "In the absence of any meaningful guidance from the state, we're presenting an ordinance at town meeting to prohibit retail marijuana establishments and retail social clubs in the town of Freedom."

One resident asked if there was any (sales tax) revenue lost with approval of the ordinance; selectmen said there is no revenue.

A Planning Board member said, "Until the rules come down from the state, we would not give out a permit if they don't (first) get a permit from the state."

Selectman Ronald Price said it has been frustrating dealing with the state and also the Sheriff's Office.

"Who will enforce the laws? With no police department it's a quagmire and I don't think the town of Freedom wants it," Price said.

Residents approved the ordinance.

Funds totaling $12,651 for service organizations also were approved by residents.

Voters re-elected Selectman Stephen Bennett for another three-year term. Cynthia Abbott was re-elected as town clerk/tax collector for a one-year term. Ernestine Keller was elected as treasurer for a one-year term and Ellie Hess was voted in as the town's school board representative.

Selectmen chose Meredith Coffin for the Spirit of America Award honoring volunteerism.

Coffin is the Regional Solid Waste representative and was instrumental in guiding the town in its trash collection and recycling efforts.

"She epitomizes volunteerism at its best," Bennett said.

The meeting concluded at approximately 1:30 p.m.