PITTSTON — Residents at the annual Town Meeting agreed to save themselves $7,500 by no longer paying for fire hydrants that officials said haven’t been used for 20 years to fight fires.
Jane Hubert, chairwoman of the Board of Selectmen, said the town has paid the Gardiner Water District $136,000 for fire hydrants over the last 20 years and has not used them once in that time.
The hydrants haven’t been used, according to Selectman Vicki Kelley and Fire Chief Jason Farris, because they don’t push out enough water for the Fire Department to use them.
Instead, firefighters bring enough water with them, with a tanker truck and by using portable water holding tanks at fire scenes.
“The smallest diameter hose we use is an inch and three-quarters, with 150 gallons a minute,” Farris said. “These hydrants don’t put out anywhere near 150 gallons a minute, so we don’t use them. We never use the hydrants. I don’t feel it will impact public safety at all.”
Pittston Consolidated School, Hubert noted, has its own sprinkler system.
Farris said the only potential concern was that the home insurance of some people who live in areas where the hydrants are could increase if the town’s fire rating is changed by a rating agency used by some, but not all, insurance companies. However, he said he didn’t think the change would have much, if any, effect on most residents’ insurance rates.
Several residents said town officials’ decision to end Pittston’s contract to allow residents to take waste to Hatch Hill landfill in Augusta, and instead making a deal to allow residents to take their trash to a facility in West Bath, was a mistake. They said going to West Bath is much more time-consuming, because of the distance; the facility is not open Saturdays; and Hatch Hill was more convenient.
“We need something better than what we have now,” resident Daniel Taggert said. “West Bath isn’t convenient for anybody.”
Hubert and Kelley said selectmen made the change to save money by eliminating the $40,000 payment for the town to be a member of Hatch Hill.
“We were paying $40,000 for no service, plus then you have to buy a sticker, and you pay a tipping fee,” Kelley said. “Now all you pay is the tipping fee. We thought it was worth a try, to save the town $40,000. If it’s miserable, we’ll revisit it.”
Residents later approved $9,000 for recycling, to pay for the cost of recycling bins being available for residents. Resident Laura Wallentine said she favors recycling but thinks the town should do it differently. She suggested enforcing an ordinance already on the books, requiring trash haulers who serve Pittston residents also to take their recyclables, at no charge, at least once a month.
She said if that prompts haulers to raise their per-bag fees, that will motivate people further to recycle more.
Hubert said the town’s contract with the hauler who empties the recycling bins ends in June. Before then, she said, town officials plan to look at options for recycling. Residents rejected a proposed amendment, offered by resident Robert Bender, to cut the funding in half, to $4,500, after Hubert said selectmen will need the full $9,000 to both keep the recycling bins until June and seek other recycling options for after June.
When essentially asked, in two consecutive warrant articles, whether they want the town to maintain all cemeteries or just maintain veterans’ graves, residents, after extensive debate, decided to do both.
Hubert said the Maine Municipal Association advised the town it shouldn’t spend public money to maintain private property. All the town’s 24 cemeteries are privately owned.
However, Hubert said town is also aware of a state requirement it maintain the grave sites of all veterans in town.
Residents said even the veterans buried in cemeteries wouldn’t want their graves to be maintained while the rest of the cemetery they are in went unmowed.
After a vote to cease debate following about 40 minutes of discussion, residents approved Hubert’s motion for $8,450 for cemetery maintenance, which she said would cover both tasks.
Residents approved spending $2,000 to restore an area of Riverside Cemetery — including 12 graves covered with poison ivy, trees and stumps — according to resident Dwayne Tobey, who helps take care of cemeteries in town.
Budget Committee member Tim Lawrence opposed the article, suggesting instead that the work be done by children as community service or Scouting projects instead of using taxpayer money.
Tobey, who said the work would require a backhoe and involve removing poison ivy, replied that if Lawrence wanted “to go down there and dig it up, we’d gladly have you. I’ve never seen you work too hard.”
About 100 people attended the meeting, which began at 9:45 a.m. and lasted well into the afternoon.
Keith Edwards — 621-5647[email protected]Twitter: @kedwardskj