CHINA — Selectmen had planned to require financial audits from the three fire departments and China Rescue as a condition of their 2012 budget requests.

But selectmen balked Monday night, postponing that demand for another year.

Last year, when selectmen recommended taking $3,000 from the local emergency services’ 2011-12 budget request, voters at the March Town Meeting not only decided to restore the $3,000, they added another $3,000 for China Rescue.

Monday night, selectmen considered voting to make the entire 2012-13 request from the departments, which totals $82,670, conditional on receiving the most recent audit reports from each of the three fire departments and China Rescue.

The motion selectmen unanimously approved, however, says that the four departments audit requirement will apply to the 2013-14 budget allocations, not funding in 2012.

Controversy over the departments’ spending has brewed for at least two years, board members said, as they cannot get what they consider sufficient information about how much money each department has and how it is spent.

China Rescue and the China Village, South China and Weeks Mills volunteer fire departments all hold fundraisers and solicit donations in addition to their town funding.

Selectman Paul MacDonald, citing an example of the lack of information about expenditures, wondered how many expensive suits are required for firemen to enter a burning building and how many department members have the necessary training to use them.

Steven Hughes, a new selectman, opened discussion Monday night by asking whether selectmen can review annual budgets from the fire departments.

Board Chairman Peter Foote said each new selectman makes the same request — without success.

Board members said they had two reasons for postponing any plan to withhold funding without audits.

They prefer to raise the issue with the fire chiefs first and they do not know the departments’ fiscal years and when audits are conducted.

The fire departments and China Rescue were one of the three issues discussed in detail as selectmen began review of Town Manager Daniel L’Heureux’s proposed 2012-13 municipal budget.

They also debated the manager’s proposed 2.5 percent pay increase for town employees and his suggested $15,000 for a part-time person to carry out new town responsibilities.

L’Heureux pointed out that employees received a 1 percent raise two years ago and none last year, though there was a benefit increase.

Because of the economic downturn, Foote said he preferred a smaller raise. But the rest of the board sided with L’Heureux.

For several years the administrative budget has included $12,000 for part-time help with tasks such as enforcing the shoreland septic system compliance program and assisting committees implementing the town’s comprehensive plan.

With the new state-mandated building code pending, L’Heureux recommended raising the appropriation to $15,000. Selectmen preferred keeping it at $12,000.

Budget discussions are scheduled to continue at successive meetings Jan. 16 and Jan. 23.


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