Dispatch leader defends budget in UnionTown accepts budget, honors Gibbons
Union — Knox County Regional Communications Center Director Linwood Lothrop stood before the taxpayers of Union at town meeting June 18 to explain the dispatch budget and answer questions.
He said most of the budget costs were due to the wages being paid to employees, something he could not control because it was part of union negotiations and done through the county commissioners. He said it was also the cost of doing business in 2012. The county dispatch has to maintain four towers and that means paying climbers to inspect equipment for damage after each destructive winter season.
He said if the towers can't communicate, police, fire and EMS cannot reach residents in an emergency.
He attended the meeting in which residents voted on the $56,429 to contract with the county for dispatch services. The town's budget committee had recommended against approving the item.
At the meeting, one resident asked Lothrop why it was so costly when the town used to pay $4,000 to the state police for dispatching. The county official said he was sure that was not what the state police would charge today.
Lothrop was also asked whether residents could simply dial police, ambulance and fire departments directly in the event 911 lost all funding. Lothrop said that would be a terrible thing.
Selectman Greg Grotton asked about cell phone calls to 911. He said it was his understanding those calls went first to the state and were transferred to Knox County. "You are just the middle man," Grotton said.
Lothrop said that as of June 6 that was not the case, and it had not been something that happened with all cell phone calls.
The communication director said you would think 911 service was on the cutting edge of technology, but it has been playing catch up in the switch from analog to digital technology. In some ways, people on the street have better technology in their communication devices, he said. He said once the transition is made from 1960s technology to 21st century technology, the system will be more efficient.
He said there are 12 employees in his department.
On the first show-of-hands vote, Moderator Ronald Hawes said he was in doubt. The motion to support the county dispatch portion of the Union town budget finally passed by a vote of 43-38.
In other business, townspeople supported the proposed $1.9 million municipal budget, which is up 4.5 percent from the previous budget. It is not expected to increase property taxes, according to Town Manager Jay Feyler.
Hawes said it was the first time in 40 years so much of the budget passed without comment or argument.
A few proposed changes to town ordinances were shot down at town meeting.
Article 7 would have added a new definition of a transportation facility to the land use ordinance. Selectman John Gibbons raised concerns about this proposed change, saying it could negatively impact Sterling Ambulance down the road, preventing the company from expanding because it would be a non-conforming use.
Planning Board Chairman Patrick Cosgrove spoke in favor of adding the definition. Residents voted it down.
The next article proposed changing the land use ordinance, eliminating single-family and two-family dwellings as allowed uses in the Route 17 commercial district.
Residents opposed to the change raised concerns about the rights of property owners to plan for their own properties. Those who favored it noted that if the town wants business development, it needs room for the businesses rather than filling the commercial district with homes.
It was noted that this would also preclude the owner of a store in the commercial district from having an apartment above the store.
"There is going to be some restrictions on zoning," Cosgrove argued. "If there is no zoning, you're going to end up with a factory next to a house."
Residents voted the motion down 47 to 44.
Townspeople also shot down the proposed "Budget Committee Ordinance."
Feyler said selectmen removed the section that disallowed town employees from being on the elected budget committee because an attorney said the town could not restrict employees from running for office.
Christine Savage, Erik Amundsen, Nathan Pease and Doris Vertz were elected to the budget committee.
John Gibbons received a recognition plaque for his six years of service on the Board of Selectmen.