Budget cuts would ‘shut down’ Mattawamkeag; former selectman pushes for re-evaluation

The reinstatement of Mattawamkeag Fire Chief Robert Powers [left] is one of the motivators residents have for cutting several items from the town's budget during a recent town meeting.
Nick Sambides Jr. | BDN
The reinstatement of Mattawamkeag Fire Chief Robert Powers [left] is one of the motivators residents have for cutting several items from the town's budget during a recent town meeting.
Posted Aug. 01, 2014, at 2:36 p.m.
Last modified Aug. 01, 2014, at 3:29 p.m.

MATTAWAMKEAG, Maine — A former selectmen will ask town leaders Monday to hold another town meeting so voters can fix budget cuts he says will force the closure of the town office and the volunteer Fire Department.

Former Selectman George Sargent said Friday he believes the majority of town residents oppose budget cuts that will force the closures. He is encouraging residents to attend the regular Board of Selectmen’s meeting at 6:30 p.m. Monday.

“We want them to show their support for having another town meeting so they can change the situation,” Sargent said. “The town basically will be shut down. There will be no one working in the Fire Department, nobody able to run the ambulance service and the town will be locked up.”

Residents voted 49-38 at Monday’s town meeting to cut the total salary of town office employees from $74,076 to $40,000. They also voted 51-37 to cut the Fire Department’s equipment, repairs, salaries, maintenance and training budget line from $56,361 to $40,000. The rest of the 52 articles passed as recommended, according to a vote summary sheet. Selectmen have said they will meet Monday to discuss the impact of the cuts.

The cuts, Sargent said, will eliminate the town administrative assistant’s position and the salaries for several town and Fire Department administrators. Sargent said he interprets the cuts to mean the elimination of positions held by Fire Chief Robert Powers, Deputy Chief Lynn Powers and town Administrative Assistant Steve Worster. The town office also employs a full-time clerk and a part-time clerk in the town office.

“I don’t know that they realized what kind of damage they were doing,” Sargent said of voters who supported the cuts. “I want them to realize that what they were doing was wrong.”

Former Selectman Bion Tolman, who voted for the cuts during the town meeting but said he wasn’t a leader of the group pushing for them, said the town can manage. The cuts essentially were made as protests against the reinstatement of Robert Powers and his wife, Lynn Powers, and against town Administrative Assistant Steve Worster, Tolman said.

“I don’t think the population actually warrants an administrative assistant,”said Tolman, whose nine years as selectman ended in 2013. “Two good people in that office is all you need. We are a dwindling population. Like a lot of places, we have a dwindling population in our schools; we don’t have the population and businesses we used to have.”

The northern Penobscot County town has a population of 825, according to the entry on Mattawamkeag at maine.gov. It sits north of Lee and Lincoln and east of Medway, off Interstate 95′s Exit 242.

Worster said Thursday he would be leaving his position, which pays about $33,000, effective Friday, regardless of any effort to reinstate him. He had held the position for about eight years, he said.

Worster and Sargent said several firefighters and town workers promised after the July 28 town meeting to submit formal resignation letters in response to the cuts. No letters had been received at the town office as of Friday, officials said.

Robert and Lynn Powers had been suspended without pay in spring 2013 after town officials said they had receipts showing Robert Powers had been using the town’s gasoline credit card for personal purchases. The case was referred to state police, but the district attorney declined to press charges and the town’s attorney told selectmen the case wouldn’t be winnable in civil court because selectmen signed off on the gas purchases, officials have said.

The Powerses, who have declined to comment on the issue, were reinstated in June.

“In my opinion, what the fire chief and his wife did was wrong. What the selectmen and town administrator did after that was worse,” Tolman said, referring to the couple being reinstated. “That was a real injustice. I think it will work itself out. It is unfortunate that it [the budget cuts] had to happen this way. It was obvious that this was the only way it was going to happen.”

The town’s attorney, Robert Hark, told residents their only recourse against the reinstatement of the Powerses would be available through the annual town meeting, Tolman said.

Sargent said Thursday’s fire department response to a fire that destroyed a house on Depot Street proved the value of Powerses’ leadership and the fire department. An adjoining structure was saved, despite being only about 6 feet from the burning dwelling.

“It shows the firemen showed up to fight the fire, and they did a good job containing it” despite the budget cuts, Sargent said.

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