The annual town meeting June 13 drew a lively debate among voters about increasing emergency funds allocated to Winterport Fire Department. Discussion started when resident Mary Anne Royal requested an increase in the Fire Department's emergency budget by $15,000.

Joe Tyler argued that increasing the funds requested by the Fire Department could increase Winterport's mil rate, property tax assessment, and put stress on residents with fixed incomes.

“I believe the amount of money we’re raising right now is a fair amount of money and I don’t think we should raise more because it’ll strap a lot of people on a fixed income with problems,” Tyler said.

Royal argued that it would be beneficial to people on a fixed income to have a Fire Department that is financially capable of protecting their property in emergency situations.

Raymond Porter, a former fire chief, shared concerns about the consequences of underfunding the department.

“That’s what the vote's all about, whether you want to be protected in the town of Winterport, neighbors protected, or you don’t want to be protected," he said. "Simple as that. Once they fall below a certain level you can plan on your house insurance doubling.”

Fire Department member Tom Skratt spoke about the reality of high costs associated with an industry that has declining volunteers. In 2017 there were 682,600 volunteer firefighters in the U.S., down from 884,600 in 1983, according to the National Volunteer Fire Council.

“With the state and federal government looking down your neck, you have to have all this stuff certified, you have to have all this stuff new and it’s really hard to keep up with. … The department made a conscious decision to keep it at $10,000 this year to try and not affect the town too much. I very much appreciate Mary Ann’s trying to raise it (the emergency fund) and if the people here see fit to raise it, that’s great. But … if it’s not going to happen this year but next year, you better watch out,” Skratt said.

Residents approved increasing the emergency reserve from $10,000 to $25,000, and then voted to pass the article as amended.

The Board of Assessors was approved for a budget of $50,405, a $29,069 increase from the previous fiscal year budget, to implement an equalization process for taxes. By Maine state law, the process should be done every 10 years, but it’s been approximately 20 years since the last one was conducted in Winterport.

Voters approved money for repairs to the municipal building and the Victoria Grant Civic Center. The library received a $1,893 increase in annual funding, compared to the prior fiscal year.

All other articles were passed except Article 36, which would have allowed the town to increase property taxes to cover budget costs.