In a lengthy, sometimes heated town meeting June 20, residents voted to add $12,700 to the ambulance budget and debated issues including a recent lawsuit the town lost against a resident.

More than 100 residents attended the meeting and approved a town budget of $1,787,338, up 2.6 percent ($46,073) from last year. About $1 million of the budget will be paid for through property taxes, up 5.5 percent ($54,635) from last year’s budget.

Debate over the ambulance budget was driven by the fact that in the town report the selectmen had voted to recommend one figure ($166,900) and the budget committee recommended the higher figure that would allow an expansion of services ($179,600).

A motion was made to approve the $179,600. Moderator Ron Hawes questioned whether residents could propose an amount higher than what was proposed by the selectmen in the town meeting warrant. The motion was allowed to stand and was seconded.

Ambulance department and budget committee members argued for adding an in-house person during the week at per diem rates to improve response time. Town Manager Jay Feyler explained June 21 that this will allow the town to have two responders at the station, a driver and a paramedic or EMT. The goal is to increase the coverage seven days per week from 5 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The increase would also allow the department to provide uniforms.

Selectman Elmer Savage argued this isn’t the time to expand the ambulance service.

Selectman and ambulance department member Jonathan Powers said adding a second person in-house could be critical in cases of strokes or heart attacks where seconds count. Ambulance Service Director Scot Sabins said the driver at the station could save the town money when there aren’t calls by doing the town office cleaning and eliminating the need to pay for someone to clean the town office.

Powers said the number of ambulance calls is not going down. It has gone from 232 calls in 1991 to 510 in 2010, according to information provided at the meeting.

Residents voted 61-32 for the higher rate for the ambulance budget.

A small group of the residents asked several times about which items paid for the salary of Code Enforcement Officer Barry Norris. The budget included $46,250 including Norris’ salary under planning department, codes.

Hawes asked residents not to talk about personalities and individuals, but positions and articles. He said it was the salary for the code enforcement officer position.

One resident argued the town didn’t have enough building permits to justify paying for a full-time code enforcement officer. Robert Doucette was also vocally outspoken in favor of cutting the code enforcement officer position back to a part-time position at a cost of no more than $10,000.

There was some controversy at the meeting because a Maine Superior Court justice ruled June 9 against the town in its lawsuit against Doucette in a dispute about whether Doucette violated town ordinances by storing loam, gravel and other fill on his land.

The town of Union filed the lawsuit against Doucette arguing that in 2009 he violated the land use ordinance by storing the materials on his property. Not only did the town lose the court case, but it has been ordered to pay for Doucette’s legal fees and the costs he incurred in defending himself.

Doucette has filed court documents requesting $13,934 for attorney’s fees and costs.

Several residents argued that a full-time code enforcement officer is needed and helpful in making sure projects don’t get held up waiting for a part-time code officer to have time for them. They also said a part-time code officer would only have time for permits and would not be able to address violations.

Doucette argued he had gone through two years of harassment, referring apparently to the legal dispute.

“You are beginning to test my patience,” Hawes said. The moderator said the question was about the budget for the planning department and codes, not Doucette’s lawsuit.

Residents approved the planning budget.

When the fire department budget came up, resident Doris Vertz requested a breakdown of the full fire department budget and questioned whether Norris was paid as fire chief on top of his pay as code officer. Some residents stated that those were two different positions.

The $49,120 fire department budget also passed.

The issues surrounding the lawsuit came up again as the $5,000 legal fees budget was debated. That too was eventually approved.

A resident questioned whether that would be enough given the court ruling against the town. Feyler said those costs would be dealt with out of the previous budget, not the budget being approved.

Feyler has also stated that Doucette lost two other cases against the town and hasn’t paid those fees yet. That may offset the most recent ruling, according to the town manager.

Doucette argued the town had to have legal fees that were run up in the battle in addition to the legal fees for which he was now requesting reimbursement. Feyler said he didn’t have those figures in front of him, but they were nowhere near what Doucette had for costs.

Selectman Greg Grotton said he was not aware of any other cases pending.

Residents spent the first hour of the meeting electing four members to the budget committee. This required several secret ballot votes. Hawes noted that budget committee members could only be elected by a majority of the votes, not a simple plurality. That meant each candidate needed to gain more than half the votes cast to win.

Eventually, the voting was completed and David Shaub, Joel “Jody” Wentworth, John Mountainland and Lincoln Hawes were elected to the budget committee. John Shepard was nominated, but had indicated prior to the meeting that he no longer wishes to serve on the committee.

Lee MacFarland was elected as a cemetery fund trustee. Judith Brogden was elected as a trustee of the William Pullen Fund.

The $51,424 to fund dispatching services with the Knox Regional Communication Center proved unpopular. The budget committee recommended voting against the item.

Norris said the town could change and get its dispatching through Augusta, but that would cause problems for mutual aid and would mean an increase in residents’ insurance rates.

Budget Committee member David Shaub said the committee is irritated by the massive increases in dispatch costs and made the vote as a protest. He said they could vote for it, but say they didn’t like it.

Residents approved the dispatch budget.

The town budget includes a 2 percent across-the-board pay increase for town employees. Town officials noted, however, that employees are also being required in the new budget to pay part of their health insurance costs, offsetting the raise.