Fire department restructuring focus of Veazie workshop

Posted May 24, 2013, at 10:16 p.m.

VEAZIE, Maine — Town councilors on Tuesday will discuss what fire protection here will look like in the future, given a 27 percent budget cut that could affect one or both of the Veazie Fire Department’s two full-time fire department employees.

The workshop begins at 6:30 p.m. and will take place in the council chambers at the municipal building.

As part of their ongoing effort to hold the line on property taxes, town councilors have made deep cuts to many areas of their spending plan for the coming fiscal year, which begins on July 1.

The council’s overarching goal through this spring’s budget deliberations was to prevent the property tax rate — which now stands at $20.50 per $1,000 in property valuation — from climbing any higher.

After a public hearing on the 2013-14 budget earlier this month, the councilors made a final round of budget cuts, including a $60,000 reduction to the fire department budget.

The fire department’s current annual budget amounts to $235,354, according to Interim Town Manager Mark Leonard, who also is the town’s police chief. The original proposed budget for next year totaled $231,767 but as a result of budget cuts, it now stands at $171,767, he said.

Leonard said Friday that the budget reductions likely will affect at least one position and possibly the equivalent of 1.5 full-time jobs.

Town councilors have not yet disclosed how the $60,000 cut will be absorbed, Leonard said. Some possibilities discussed during their recent budget hearing include going to a completely volunteer fire department, possibly with a paid chief, and contracting for fire protection with a nearby town, such as Orono or Bangor.

Leonard said he did not yet know if the budget cut would affect the fire department’s response time. That will depend on how the department is restructured.

Last month, school officials presented a $4,394,547 gross budget that called for $2,904,082 in local dollars, a roughly 3 percent drop from this year’s local burden. During a special meeting on April 29, town councilors voted 3-2 to direct the school committee to trim another $200,000 from the local share. School officials, however, identified only $100,000 in reductions — for a 6 percent drop in the local portion — saying that any more would hurt the quality of local education.

While town councilors opted not to seek the full $200,000 reduction after this month’s public hearing, they did vote 3-2 to cut an additional $26,000 from the total that must be raised from Veazie taxpayers, bringing the local burden down to $2,778,082.

Going into the final round of budget deliberations, the municipal budget stood at $1,953,775, or $172,532 less than this year, Leonard said at that time.

Earlier rounds of cuts included:

• A decision not to have a full-time town manager and a full-time police chief and continue to have Leonard split his time between those roles to save about $45,000;

• Reductions to the police and fire department budgets, community investments, contributions to reserve accounts and solid waste removal, which will cost substantially less because of a new contract. The town cut its sewer assessment from $150,000 to $110,000.

• Another $64,000 in reductions, including the elimination of the town’s last public works position, a $19,000 cut in the recreation budget that could mean no summer staff hires and a $12,000 cut in the administration budget that could result in the loss of a part-time town office staffer.

• The sale of a 1991 fire engine and the fire chief’s vehicle, which could bring in as much as $50,000.

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