ATHENS — Voters at Town Meeting on Saturday will be asked to accept as town property all the assets, land, buildings, trucks and equipment currently owned by the Athens Volunteer Fire Department and to enact an ordinance establishing the Fire Department as a municipal entity.

The Fire Department traditionally has been an incorporated entity, separate from the Town Office, with incorporation done annually. The plan now, according to First Selectman Mark Munn, is to disband the department’s status as incorporated and have all operations handled by the town government.

Munn, who is up for re-election Friday, unopposed for a two-year term on the ballot, said the ordinance, if approved by voters, will consolidate paperwork and operations under one roof for a more efficient way to operate.

Elections will be held from 4 to 8 p.m. Friday at the Somerset Academy. In addition to Munn, Town Treasurer Jean Bussell is up for re-election unopposed for a two-year term, and Victoria Avery is seeking re-election to the school board, unopposed for a three-year term of office.

The annual business meeting is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Saturday at the same location. Munn said the proposed budget of $611,765 is about $10,000 less than the budget approved at Town Meeting last year.

On the Fire Department issue, Munn said he conferred with the Maine Municipal Association and found that insurance companies are not as eager to cover volunteer fire departments as they used to.

“We have limited membership and they don’t want to spend a lot of time paying bills and doing all the office work that (Bussell) could do up here,” Munn said. “Right now, they have their savings account, their checking account and they pay the bills with money we appropriate for them.”

Munn said Fire Department membership approached him and initiated the idea for change.

Athens Fire Chief Brett Strout said Fire Department membership voted to make the change and will support the two articles at Saturday’s Town Meeting. On the surface, nothing is going to look any different, Strout said.

“Right now, we are a private incorporation — a nonprofit incorporation,” he said. “We have control over the department. We govern our own department, but it becomes harder and harder every year to get some of these grants the government gives out to municipalities, so it’s our opinion to get with the times and become a municipal fire department just like 90 percent of the rest of state.”

Munn said because of the turnover in the position of fire chief in recent years and the fact that some of the firefighters work odd hours out of town, the department failed to incorporate a couple of times, which was a problem. Without being incorporated, the department technically lost its legal status to conduct business, he said.

“I think they want to concentrate on membership, on fighting fires, and make all the paperwork a town responsibility,” Munn said. “Jean (Bussell) is good at what she does, and she can do it at the town office. We had a chief go to Iraq. We had chiefs come and go, and I think it just slipped through the cracks. The information didn’t get passed on.”

Munn said the bottom line is that the town wants and needs fire protection.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]

Twitter:@Doug_Harlow

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