After questions were asked and answered and the issue was debated, townspeople in Warren voted March 23 to fund per diem pay to staff the ambulance department during the workweek.

About 50 residents attended the town meeting March 23 at the Warren Community School and approved a total municipal budget of $2,006,811, down about $14,235 or .7 percent from last year’s budget of $2,021,046.

The debate over the ambulance budget came early in the meeting as residents were asked to vote on the protection budget. One resident proposed removing $42,355 from the ambulance portion of that budget, which would be used to pay for per diem coverage during the workweek.

Town officials had proposed a total ambulance budget of $106,555.

The town report noted that the budget committee had voted 12-0 to recommend $64,200 for the ambulance budget and had not voted on the additional $42,355 for per diem.

Town Manager Grant Watmough explained that selectmen were still researching options for how to deal with the shortage of weekday volunteers when the budget committee completed its work.

In the past, the Warren Ambulance Service has been an all-volunteer service. In recent years, the service has seen an increase in the number of calls per year. In addition, there has been a shortage of volunteers available during the daytime hours of the workweek when many of the volunteers work full-time jobs elsewhere.

Members of the service brought the problem to the selectmen and they researched potential solutions as the budget was being prepared. The ambulance service officials requested that the town go to per diem payment for the weekdays. Selectmen also looked at the option of contracting other ambulance services to provide coverage.

Selectmen told townspeople at town meeting that per diem pay was the best way to solve the problem while maintaining a locally run, town-controlled ambulance department. Contracting another service might have meant turning over the town ambulance to that outside agency or giving up on having Warren’s own ambulance department.

One town resident said he was concerned that the ambulance budget could be hundreds of thousands of dollars next year. Another resident argued that the $42,355 only covered six months of the per diem. Watmough confirmed this March 24.

Bill Lufkin of the ambulance department argued in favor of keeping the department local. He said seeing a familiar face is important to people when they need an ambulance. He also argued that with an outside agency, townspeople would lose local control. Another member of the ambulance department said contracting an outside ambulance service could mean a longer response time.

In the end, the motion to cut the $42,355 failed, and residents voted in favor of the full $106,555 for the ambulance department.

The $41,400 recreation budget was questioned, because it is up $7,500 from last year. The part-time recreation director’s pay has increased from $10,000 in 2008 to $16,000 in 2009 to the proposed $23,400 in 2010. Watmough wrote in his notes to the budget committee that the recreation director position has gone from 20 hours a week to 30 hours a week. “The program continues to increase the number of children participating each year,” he wrote.

The recreation budget was approved.

The $2,950 library budget has been cut by $6,500 from last year. The town has eliminated the amount it usually gives the library for books each year. Watmough said book funds will have to come from the library trust fund.

One resident raised concerns about cutting the library budget and proposed restoring those funds. He argued the town could afford to increase the recreation budget, and that it could spend as much to improve town minds as it does to improve bodies. He was told the budget items could not be increased at town meeting.

The legal budget is up by $4,000 from last year to a total of $12,000. Watmough said the town has been put on notice that it may be sued. He said this was being placed in the budget just in case the suit was brought forward.

There was also a lengthy debate about the money for social services. It was proposed to cut the $7,877 proposed for Penquis Community Action. This motion failed after it was noted the organization has done a lot of good work in Warren.

A second motion was made to cut Penquis by the amount owed in town taxes by the Coastal Community Action Program (CCAP merged with Penquis and ceased to exist as a separate entity four years ago). The amount owed was $1,341 in property taxes on seven acres on Route 90. Watmough said this was not the way to collect that money. He said there was another mechanism to do that. This motion also failed.

Eventually, the townspeople approved the $26,281 for social services.

In the election the day before the town meeting, Arnold D. Hill was re-elected to the Board of Selectmen in an uncontested race with 77 votes.

Juanita J. Brown was elected in an uncontested race for the school board with 70 votes and Theodore V. Brown was elected to the school board in an equally uncontested race with 60 votes.

At town meeting, residents elected six members of the budget committee. They were Bill Lufkin, Clayton Winchenbach, Elizabeth Stanley, Edward Courtenay, Edmund LaFlamme and Margaret Grant. James Doyle and Edward Courtenay were also elected as fish wardens.

John Black served as moderator.