VEAZIE, Maine — A five-member panel appointed by the Town Council continues to explore how fire protection will look in the future, given a 26 percent budget cut to the Veazie Fire Department’s operating budget.
As it stands, the level of funding the town councilors proposed, and voters approved, is not sufficient to cover the cost of employing the Fire Department’s two full-time employees.
The town councilors have not presented a plan for future fire and medical coverage, but they did direct town staff to seek proposals for fire protection and emergency medical services from neighboring Bangor and Orono.
They also appointed a five-member committee consisting of town and Fire Department officials and residents. Led by Town Councilor Karen Walker, the group has met several times to work through some of the options open to Veazie.
Walker, who was elected to the council in June, said she has asked the rest of the councilors for their thoughts on what the reorganization committee’s goals should be.
“The things that were thrown out were [coming up with the plan that has] the least impact. That we need a plan now,” Walker said during a report to panel members in July.
“Apparently emergency [medical] calls, they felt, were the bulk of our calls so that’s something we need to look at as we move forward,” she said.
Town Manager Mark Leonard, who also is the town’s police chief, said this week that the group hopes to make a presentation to the Town Council during its next regular meeting, set for Aug. 26.
“The ultimate goal is to provide the best protection for the town,” Leonard said.
Both Bangor and Orono presented preliminary proposals in the $160,000 range, but both neighboring fire departments want to acquire Veazie’s Fire Department equipment.
The panel has met with Orono Fire Chief Rob St. Louis and Bangor Fire Chief Scott Lucas to hash out some of the particulars of their respective proposals.
During a reorganization committee meeting last month, members asked that Orono and Bangor prepare budget figures showing the cost for service if Veazie were to keep its equipment so that it would not have to start again from scratch if the town decides it wants to go back to having a fire department of its own.
Both communities said they would take on Veazie’s current full-time Fire Department employees, Capt. Pete Metcalf and Lt. Nick Sirois, provided they pass a physical agility test and a “fit for duty” medical evaluation and become license paramedics within three years of being hired.
Both proposals also included provisions for fire inspections and fire prevention programming for Veazie Community School students.
A key difference between the two proposals is that Bangor’s fire chief is looking at a term of 10 years and Orono Town Manager Sophie Wilson favors a year-to-year arrangement.
During a meeting last month with the fire department reorganization committee, St. Louis said he had met with his Bangor counterpart to discuss serving Veazie residents.
“We shared our thoughts and we are both willing, whether you accept Orono or you accept Bangor or if you want to sit down with both of us to see if we can do something together, we’re both open to trying to find the best service possible for you guys,” St. Louis said. We’re willing to work together.”
Metcalf and Sirois, who are represented by the International Association of Firefighters, pointed out that their union representatives will need to be involved in the negotiations.
The Fire Department’s operating budget for last year totaled $235,354, Leonard said earlier. The original budget proposed for this year totaled $231,767, but as a result of cuts made during budget deliberations and during a public hearing in May, the total stood at $171,767, he said.
Supporters of the Fire Department tried to increase department funding during the annual town meeting in June, but were told the town charter doesn’t allow for that.