Ambulance service, other topics cause debate at Thomaston town meeting

By Beth A. Birmingham | Jun 15, 2018
Photo by: Beth A. Birmingham Thomaston EMT Jamie Leo addresses the audience at Town Meeting June 13 regarding the expense of having ambulance coverage done by Rockland.

Thomaston — It took four hours and much debate to bring Thomaston's annual town meeting to a close June 13.

The approved municipal budget of $3,443,270.24 is a 5.64 percent increase over last year.

Residents questioned the zero budget for selectmen's salaries and a $15,000 increase in the police department's traffic control line item, amended the Protection and Public Safety budget, and debated a dramatic increase in the ambulance department budget.

The meeting also included the defeat of three of the 40 warrant articles during the open process.

Causing much controversy was the $84,000 increase in the ambulance department budget for coverage by Rockland EMS, from $20,000 last year to $104,000 this year.

Town Manager Valmore Blastow explained Rockland increased its charges to $800 per call, and noted that as of this year the town is already short by almost $30,000.

He said the town is working on a plan, conducting surveys, but in the meantime he's looking for a stopgap until the community decides how to handle the ambulance services.

"There's a lot of communities having issues with this," Blastow said.

"It takes a lot of time to get from Rockland to Thomaston," resident Richard Catalano said, advocating more attractive compensation for local EMS members.

EMS Chief Rusty Barnard said membership has declined over the last several years, partly due to pay, but more because of the time commitment.

"It's a national issue," EMT Alan Leo said, explaining that it is a profession now, whereas it used to be a volunteer position to help out the community. "And people expect to get paid for it," he said.

"It's not a wonderful situation, and you're going to have to decide by next town meeting what you want to pay for," Leo said.

Planning Board member and newly elected Selectman Beverly St. Clair said the town is very concerned about the situation, and there is a workshop in the making to consider options.

Barnard said the town has a tuition reimbursement program to assist anyone wishing to become an EMT. He said the only stipulation once someone gets licensed is that they must serve the town for two years -- one night a week.

"We need the people," he said.

Tony Leo, who used to work for the Rockland Fire Department, said, "They don't want to do calls here -- they want to do it under the old school model of mutual aid ... that doesn't happen anymore."

"We need to fund it and have someone in the station 24 hours," he said.

Residents also questioned the zero budget for the selectmen's salary, for which $11,577.82 was budgeted last year.

Dwight Henry expressed his concern about the new selectman -- St. Clair -- not having a say in the matter.

During a special selectmen's meeting April 30, the Board of Selectmen elected to suspend its stipends for a year to help reduce the overall budget.

The $11,577,82 decrease allowed a proposed slashing of $11,000 to the police department budget for traffic control to remain funded --  something the community had asked for stricter control over.

Before allowing the passage of the Protection and Public Safety budget and a detailed explanation by Selectman Peter Lammert of the tracking of repairs needed, an amendment was made to put the public utilities (Central Maine Power) funding for street lighting in escrow until all the lights in town are fixed.

Hotly contested as "purely a business venture" was a proposal to lease land in the 22-acre Thomaston Village Cemetery to Mike Hall, Midcoast Crematory, Inc., for the construction and operation of a crematorium off Annabelle Lane.

Although the estimated lease of not less than $500 a month plus remuneration of taxes for the facility would go directly to the Cemetery Committee for ongoing maintenance, several residents spoke out about the location and disruption to the neighborhood.

Resident Bill Eberle explained that with this particular cemetery being the only one in the area large enough to accommodate a crematorium, it is a valuable entity.

"But they [selectmen] haven't done the research. The town needs to do a number of things ... and do it right," he said.

After Budget Committee member Doug Erickson made a motion to table the article, it was changed to defeat the article, which was done ... with applause following.

Also defeated were proposed amendments to ordinances dealing with fire hazard control in one- and two-family structures.

The ordinance in National Fire Protection Association’s Life Safety Code entails upgrading to the 2015 edition. It deals with the control of fire hazards in buildings and structures, and the adoption of all terms, with the exception of the requirement to install sprinkler systems in one- and two-family houses.

The change sought to exempt those structures from having to be equipped with sprinkler systems, and clarified that any new structures accommodating three or more families would be required to have sprinkler systems in place.

Upgrades were also proposed to ordinances governing building codes.

The final article defeated was an amended Interlocal Agreement for the Owls Head, South Thomaston and Thomaston Solid Waste Transfer Facility, which was not recommended by the selectmen.

Lammert was adamant about the decision, stating there are numerous errors in the document and "it just does not fit our facility."

Although the other two towns have approved the amendments, it now becomes null and void and the cooperative must go back and rebuild it, according to Lammert.

In the only contested municipal race at the polls June 12, St. Clair was elected to the Board of Selectmen, beating incumbent Greg Hamlin by a vote of 342 to 170.

Incumbent Lammert maintained his seat on the Board of Assessors, with 452 votes.

As there were no nomination papers turned in for the two open seats on the Regional School Unit 13 Board of Directors, several write-in nominees were added, including Amy Witham Beers, with 16, who accepted and was sworn in at town meeting.

It was noted that resident Mark Lewis had said he would like to serve on the board, but that has yet to be confirmed by the Town Office.

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

Thomaston Town Meeting
Comments (1)
Posted by: Don Dickinson | Jun 15, 2018 23:31

That's not Tony Leo addressing the audience. It's his brother Jamie.



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