Union Board of Selectmen voted 4 to 1 to deny awarding general assistance to illegal immigrants, following orders sent to towns by Gov. Paul LePage.

"Gov. LePage says if we give general assistance to illegal aliens you will lose all reimbursements," said Union Town Manager Jay Feyler, referring to a statement the governor made in a letter to Maine municipalities.

At its July 1 meeting, Feyler explained that the Maine Municipal Association has asked the courts for a legal opinion.

In the letter, the governor cited a federal law passed in 1996 that prohibits giving general assistance to illegal aliens, and contradictory information being given from Attorney General Janet Mills and the Maine Municipal Association.

The Department of Health and Human Services sent a letter of guidance regarding enforcement of the federal law. LePage noted "DHHS worked with the Office of the Attorney General for months on a proposed rule to exclude certain non-citizens from General Assistance."

That proposed rule was initially approved by the Attorney General's office, but according to LePage, Mills then said the rule was unconstitutional.

"Enforcing the federal prohibition is another common-sense measure to make sure local taxpayers' dollars are helping Mainers, U.S. citizens or those living here with legal status," LePage stated in the letter.

The current ordinance is based solely on need not status, said Feyler.

Selectman Elmer "Bud" Savage expressed dismay at the recent news coverage, saying it is very misleading. Savage wanted to wait until a formal decision was made, and voted against the motion to deny benefits.

The General Assistance Program is administered for the support of the poor. Anyone wishing to apply for general assistance may do so at the town office. Applicants are responsible for providing the administrator with the information necessary to determine eligibility, including proof of all income and expenses.

Within 24 hours of receiving an application, the administrator must issue a written decision.

"It is unfortunate that the governor and the Attorney General’s Office has put municipalities in the middle of this dispute," said Feyler. "This is a lose-lose situation for all municipalities in Maine and ultimately the local taxpayer will cover the cost."

"This has become quite a political issue and everyone has a personal opinion including me," Feyler said.

He said his recommendation to the board was based on the liability and cost to the town.

"If we abide by the governor’s wishes we are violating the law according to the attorney general and will be subject to a lawsuit," said Feyler, "and if we don’t we will lose our reimbursement … either way it costs the town money."

Feyler said he hopes the courts will make a decision in this matter before it becomes a major financial burden to municipalities.

"The bottom line is if we could get two parties to work together in Augusta and do what is right, this could have been resolved without any of these issues," said Feyler.

Union has not had any residents apply for general assistance, he said.

Other business

Also at the July 1 meeting, selectmen awarded George C. Hall of Rockland the contract to demolish and remove the sand and salt shed. Hall's bid of $13,575 was the lowest of the five bidders.

Other bidders were Jake Barbour at $18,500, Jarr Management at $19,250, Farley & Sons at $25,838, and Gordon Contracting at $38,940.

Of the two eligible bidders for the town roadside mowing, Miller Enterprises was awarded the two-year contract with a bid of $7,743.

And the gazebo on the Common is due to be repaired by Founder's Day, Friday, July 18. The building was struck by a car this past winter.

Selectmen approved a request from Common House of Pizza to place picnic tables on the Common on a trial basis.

Courier Publications reporter Beth A. Birmingham can be reached at 594-4401 ext. 125 or via email at bbirmingham@courierpublicationsllc.com.