WHITEFIELD — One way or another, residents will vote on buying a $269,000 firetruck at Town Meeting in March.
The purchase would typically get a vote during the business portion of Town Meeting, scheduled for 2 p.m., Saturday, March 15, but some residents are pushing for it to be part of the secret ballot referendum that morning.
Phillip Russell, one of a few residents circulating petitions to request a referendum, said many more people stop in to vote in the morning than stay for the long afternoon meeting.
“We have a very small turnout at Town Meeting,” he said. “This way seems more fair to me if it’s on a referendum because then at least everybody has a chance to say yes (or) no, and they don’t have to stand there in front of a bunch of volunteers and say âno, we’re not going to spend a bunch of money on you.'”
Russell said he has no idea whether the purchase would be more likely to be rejected if people vote on it by secret ballot.
Fire Chief Scott Higgins said he’s concerned that putting the question to referendum would do away with the opportunity for him to present the argument for the new truck and for residents to debate it. A public hearing would precede the referendum, but it could have even lower turnout than Town Meeting.
Higgins said the purchase is in keeping with a long-range equipment plan developed more than a decade ago.
The pumper-tanker truck would replace two vehicles operated out of the Coopers Mills station: a 1993 engine and a 1980 tanker.
Whitefield is finishing paying the debt for the pumper it bought in 2004 based on the equipment plan. Selectman Tony Marple said the old loan payment of $18,384 would be replaced by a payment of about $23,000 to finance the new truck. The exact amount would depend on the final interest rate from Maine Municipal Bond Bank.
Although the new loan would be more expensive, Higgins said the town would save money on maintenance by replacing the old trucks.
Russell, himself a former volunteer firefighter, said he questions whether Whitefield needs the new pumper-tanker, but the residents circulating the petition aren’t advocating for a vote either way, just that the vote occur by referendum.
The group has a deadline of Jan. 29 to submit 128 qualifying signatures.