BURNHAM — Voters upped budget allocations for Burnham firefighters and equipment, scrapped all funding for recycling and interrogated just about everything in between at the annual Town Meeting on Saturday afternoon.
Though people came and went throughout the meeting, over 35 residents attended in total. A final tally of attendees and the total budget approved was not available before press time.
Payroll for firemen was increased from the recommended $6,500, with $613.71 carried forward from the current budget, to $10,000 after Chief Charlie King made a case for giving responders a raise. They are currently paid $12 per hour, from the time the pager goes off to when the trucks are returned to the fire department, according to King.
“The past couple of years we’ve been going to more and more fires on mutual aid agreements,” he said. “It used to be we could go to a fire for an hour. This past year, we had several (instances) where we were out seven, eight, nine, 10 hours. It’s depleted our funds. … I’m asking for a raise for the firemen. Every night they get up to protect peoples’ houses. I think they should be making more than minimum wage.”
Residents evidently agreed, with a unanimous vote in favor of the $3,500 increase. In a second act of support for the fire department, voters unanimously approved $4,000 more than the recommended amount for equipment. For the past several years, the town has put $6,000 toward that fund, as was recommended this year in the article, but citizens agreed with King that they needed to make a larger commitment in order to build up enough money to buy a new fire truck when it is needed. King said that when the town last bought a truck in 2001, it was sold at $152,000. When he researched trucks this year, he came up with an estimation of $250,000.
“At the rate of $6,000 a year, we’re never going to raise enough money to buy a truck in this town,” he said. “We’ve got to put a little bit more in each year.”
The Fire Department Equipment fund currently has $49,982.43 and was last dipped into in 2017, with a $3,000 withdrawal.
Voters did not alter the recommended amount for fire protection, which, at $20,000 was one of the larger requests. In 2018, the town spent $21,811.80 on fire protection, and $1,287.27 was carried forward.
Discussions about Burnham’s transfer station and recycling program each raised suggestions for the town to form committees to research improvements. Though the proposed transfer station allocation passed unanimously at $100,000, citizens highlighted several problems relating to the operations, including other towns dumping trash there for free, contracted garbage trucks damaging the structures without paying for repair and a lack of appropriately placed gutters creating hazardous conditions.
Roger Chadwick made a motion to reduce the recycling allocation from $5,000 to $0, claiming that the town spends “four to five times as much to get rid of recycling” than to take it to Penobscot Energy Recovery Company with the town’s solid waste. Chadwick was a selectman in the town when it began recycling.
“The way we’re doing it is completely out of control,” he said on Saturday.
Selectman George Robison said that while he “thinks the days of us making money off of (recycling) are over,” the town has to make sure it meets any state recycling requirements.
“We’re going to figure out what we’re required to do, if we’re required to do anything,” he said. “I thought we had to increase the percentage we recycle each year.”
Selectwoman Kristy Hapworth shared Maine’s recycling goal, most recently amended in 2016: “It is the goal of the state to recycle or compost, by January 1, 2021, 50% of the municipal solid waste tonnage generated each year within the state.”
“I think we need to go in that direction,” Hapworth said.
After a 14 to 12 vote decided that Burnham would not dedicate any money to its recycling program in the upcoming fiscal year, younger members of the audience looked visibly annoyed.
In response to a suggestion to form a committee to investigate recycling options, Hapworth commented: “At this point we have no money, so why would we.”
In 2018, the town spent $3,700 on recycling and in 2017 it spent $4,400 on recycling.
Burnham’s single highest expense — $155,000 for salting, sanding and removing snow from town roads — was approved handily after King, who is also the town’s highway commissioner, explained that he consistently uses $150,000 and has had to pay out of pocket in the past when he has run out of money for salt and sand.
Hapworth was re-elected for a three-year term on the select board, defeating Chadwick in a 105-82 vote. There was one write-in vote for William Shepard and three blank ballots. Wayne Mitchell was also elected as a selectman, filling a seat vacated by Stuart Huff, who resigned for health reasons. Mitchell will have two years in the role. Receiving 90 votes, he defeated candidates Brent Chase, who got 39 votes and Franz Spiegel, who got 57. There were five blank ballots in this race.
Town Treasurer Arlene Miles and Highway Commissioner King each defeated one write-in candidate to get re-elected for one-year terms. Brian Whitney also secured a second three-year seat on the School Administrative District 53 board in an uncontested race.
Municipal elections took place by secret ballot on Friday. There were 191 ballots cast.
Meg Robbins — 861-9239