Bucksport selects replacement for councilor who died last month, debates back pay for EMTs

Posted Aug. 31, 2012, at 4:12 p.m.

BUCKSPORT, Maine — The Bucksport Town Council has appointed a former councilor to fill the seat of Jeff Robinson Sr., who died last month after a brief battle with lung cancer.

Joel Wardwell, who was first elected to the council in 1991 and left in 2009, will serve until the regularly scheduled election on Nov. 6. Two people, Frank Dunbar and Wendy White, have filed paperwork to run in that election. Dunbar is a local barber and vocal member of the Bucks Mills Rod and Gun Club. Wendy White is an alternate on the Board of Assessment Review.

Robinson died on July 16 in Bangor. He was 70 years old. He had sat on the council for 21 years, and had been elected chairman-mayor by his peers nine times, according to his obituary.

“I’m here to fill in for Jeff Robinson, but I could never replace him,” Wardwell said after being unanimously appointed to fill the seat in the interim. “I could never replace him.”

Also on Thursday, the council considered changes to the town’s ambulance service, including the addition of “pager pay,” which would make sure first-responders were compensated $3 per hour for time they spend on-call, whether they received a call or not. Time spent on a call would be paid the normal wage commensurate with EMT experience and training.

The proposed changes also require on-call workers to stay within eight miles of the station, and reduce the number of responders on a typical call from three to two.

The councilors tabled the changes to have more time to familiarize themselves with the new procedures on the table.

That action raised another issue and some disagreement, however, when Director of Emergency Services Craig Bowden told councilors that he had started scheduling EMTs on July 1 under the proposed policies, and expected his EMTs to receive back-pay under the new pay scale.

Bowden had his men start working under the new policies in July, expecting they’d be passed soon. The changes have taken longer to work through the council than expected, according to Bowden and several councilors.

He said on Thursday that he was told “we need to get going” on the new plans as soon as possible, so he began scheduling first-responders and running the department under the new policies.

But the legislative process took longer than expected. Now, Bowden is asking for $3,794 in retroactive pay, which represents the additional costs under the new scheduling and pay system.

Some councilors were upset that Bowden had told his men the new pay scale would begin before the council had finally approved the changes.

“When the council approves something moneywise, they don’t ever start paying it out before it’s finalized,” said Councilor Michael Ormbsy as Bowden stood at the podium. “What prompted you to tell them they would be paid as of July 1?”

“I will accept responsibility for any miscommunications on our half,” Bowden told the council. “But we were asked to make this work and I feel very strongly that we’ve done exactly that. … If we have to wait [and table the changes] because some councilors don’t have the information they need, I’m fine with that. But I’d like a little guarantee that we start pay on July 1.”

Bowden received no such guarantee. Councilors Ormsby, Byron Vinton III and Belle Ryder seemed unlikely to budge on beginning the new pay system once the changes were passed. But Chairman David Keene said he was for the retro pay.

“I don’t really have a big concern about the retroactive pay back to July 1,” he said. “These people do a wonderful service to the community and they shouldn’t take the brunt of it because there was a glitch in the legislative process.”

On Friday, Bowden said that despite the uncertainty of back pay, his crews would continue to operate under the new rules proposed by the Finance Committee.

The Bucksport Town Council also approved a $52,800 contract with Millett Associates of Hermon for a portion of the reconstruction of Route 46. Bucksport has estimated that the entire Route 46 rehabilitation will cost $1 million, but 50 percent of that will be paid by the Maine Department of Transportation.

Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.

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