Lincoln saves firefighter position but will lay off three workers in final $3.68 million budget

Lincoln Town Council Chairman Steve Clay (left) and Town Manager William Lawrence
Nick Sambides Jr. | BDN
Lincoln Town Council Chairman Steve Clay (left) and Town Manager William Lawrence Buy Photo
Posted June 17, 2014, at 6:21 p.m.

LINCOLN, Maine – Two part-time clerks and a firefighter will be laid off and a police officer’s position left unfilled in a $3.68 million budget approved by the town council Monday night.

Councilors passed the 2013-14 budget in a series of votes during the meeting. The vote to keep a second firefighter position considered for elimination passed 5-2, with Councilors Samuel Clay and Dede Trask opposed.

Trask and Curt Ring agreed that cutting one firefighter’s position was an “unhappy compromise” between the town’s public safety and economic needs.

“I thought it was the best way to negate the impact on the Fire Department and on public safety,” Ring said of the compromise after the meeting.

“Either take both [firefighters] out” and satisfy the town’s economic needs, Trask said, “or leave both of them in” and satisfy community requests not to diminish the Fire Department.

Town Manager William Lawrence said the $3.68 million budget represents a reduction of about $580,000 from the town’s $4.3 million municipal services budget for the 2013-14 fiscal year, which ends June 30. Lawrence called it an early projection but said the town’s mill rate should decline from $22.96 to $22.86 with the new budget.

With both firefighters’ positions eliminated, the town would have cut about $653,000 from this year’s budget, possibly resulting in a $22.58 mill rate, Lawrence said.

“None of us likes the budget,” Lawrence said Tuesday. “But we are confronting a population increasingly on fixed incomes that cannot afford tax increases, so we have to tighten our belts. Nobody wants to see anybody lose their job, but I would rather have done it this way.”

Under the budget, one library and one town office clerk would be laid off. Another library clerk’s position, and a police officer’s position, would be left unfilled, he said. Lawrence originally proposed a $600,000 cut in February as an offset to the impact on taxpayers of the layoff of 200 workers from Lincoln Paper and Tissue LLC workers in December.

The eliminated position in the Fire Department means the town will be covered for two days and two nights a week with a single firefighter, said Ken Goslin, vice president of the town’s fire union.

The union opposes the cut, saying that the town could face a public safety risk when an emergency occurs and the town’s ambulance is already on a call. When that happens, it will take at least 10 minutes for another firefighter to be called in to cover the station. The cuts also might force an increase in amount town businesses and residents pay in fire insurance.

“It’s terrible,” Goslin said Tuesday. “Obviously this is going to impact us. This is the first time in anybody’s memory there has been a firefighter layoff in Lincoln.”

The town has seven full-time firefighters, until the layoff goes into effect July 1, and a group of firefighters work part-time on an on-call basis.

Lawrence said he is hopeful a tax abatement request from Lincoln Paper, the town’s biggest taxpayer, and the ongoing installation of a $7.5 million natural gas pipeline into West Broadway, would go well for the town next year.

“If we have to make further cuts, we are now talking about the elimination of some services,” Lawrence said.

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