WINTERPORT — Town residents approved the full amount of funding requested by Winterport Volunteer Ambulance Association at the June 10 annual meeting, which lasted about two hours. Residents also approved a bond to make improvements to the town’s small wastewater treatment plant.

Funds raised from taxes at this year’s town meeting increased by 14.3% to $2,425,241 from $2,121,334 last year. The overall budget increased 17.8%, rising to $4,245,011 from $3,602,546 in 2020.

About 100 residents gathered at Leroy H. Smith School and passed almost all the articles on the town warrant without much discussion, except for two issues, of which ambulance funding was the more hotly debated.

The Ambulance Association requested $250,000 from residents this year to cover its financial deficit and labor costs, but three of the five selectmen recommended that the town approve $200,000 instead of the full amount, while two recommended not to pass the article. Neither of the dissenting selectmen would answer a resident’s question about why they opposed the article.

The first motion made on the article was to approve $100,000 with the condition that the selectmen draft an article for next year’s town meeting placing the Ambulance Association formally under the town. The resident who offered the motion felt $100,000 was a fair amount, because the current deficit is $80,000.

Another resident argued that $100,000 might cover the current deficit, but there were other costs the Ambulance Association needed to cover, and next year’s deficit is expected to be even larger than the current one.

A third resident moved to amend the article to raise the funding amount to the original $200,000 suggested by selectmen and eliminate the proposed condition, and residents approved the amendment.

Resident and former Ambulance Association Director Phil Higgins felt the condition was too similar to a condition placed on ambulance funding at last year’s meeting. Last year’s condition created a committee to submit a report to the selectmen regarding the Ambulance Association’s finances and other ambulance options open to the town. Then two public meetings were held regarding the report before ambulance funds were released.

The report indicated that it would cost twice as much, about $500,000, to contract with a private ambulance service as to cover the Ambulance Association’s financial deficit every year. It recommended the town cover the Ambulance Association’s cost deficit each year and then look into making it a municipal department in the future.

The Ambulance Association had been providing services to the town at no charge since its inception in 1972, when it was an all-volunteer service. But In 2012 it saw a decline in volunteers and started paying some people; now there are no volunteers in the service. Labor costs are the primary reason operating costs have increased, according to the report.

One resident was frustrated that the Ambulance Association did not ask for more than the $9,000 it asked from Frankfort, with which it contracts for services, so it could ask for less money from Winterport.

Lifelong Winterport resident Bob Patterson, who has used the ambulance service, said the town needs a reliable service for its elderly population. Another resident has had to use the service seven times, five of which were heart emergencies. He said the doctors told him he would be a dead man if EMS had not responded as fast as they did.

He said it amazes him that people can spend so much of their money on irrelevant personal items, but will argue over funding things necessary for public safety. His comments drew applause from residents around the room.

“All I can say is, be thankful for what you have and let’s keep it,” he said. “… And our taxes might go up, but look where you’re living.”

Another resident offered a final amendment to the article, raising the amount to the $250,000 the Ambulance Association originally requested, which passed. After a lengthy discussion, the question was called and residents approved the article as amended.

In other business, residents approved a bond to fund a project that would bring the town’s small wastewater treatment plant into compliance with state regulations.

Previously, the small plant was required to remove 30% of effluent wastewater before it was released into the river. Now the plant must remove 85% of effluent before it is released, according to Olver Associates Inc. Vice President Annaleis Hafford.

The $1,940,990 bond will have a 2.5% interest rate over 30 years, resulting in total estimated interest of $819,950, according to calculations she presented. The small plant treats water from 305 customers downtown.

Some residents who have wells and septic systems did not want to approve the bond, because they felt that it was something only a few residents and businesses were benefiting from. One woman likened it to having the town pay for well and septic services on her personal property.

Another resident supported the bond because it could have a positive effect on economic development downtown, which could result in economic growth in the town. Hafford said water district customers will still be paying for the project along with other residents through increased rates.

In other business, Kevin Kelley was chosen selectman, Christopher Labonte won a seat on the Regional School Unit 22 school board, and Thomas Skratt was elected town assessor. All terms are three years.

There is still one open seat on the RSU 22 board representing Winterport, which will be filled later. Because of a clerical error, it was not on this year’s town election ballot.

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