THORNDIKE — Residents of Thorndike now have a municipal fire department and an all-new select board.

Voters overwhelmingly passed an ordinance to replace Thorndike’s independent fire company with a town-run fire department, effective immediately, at its annual Town Meeting on Saturday morning. The vote was 73 to 11, with one invalid ballot. The new department will have the same budget for salaries and equipment as the previous fire company did but will operate under tighter municipal control. 

Selectmen will now have a say in approving the rules and regulations of the department and will oversee all of its funds, including donations. The board will also appoint a fire chief, rather than approve or reject the leader nominated by the firefighters. 

By the time that decision was made, tensions in the room had already reached a breaking point. Two former selectmen left the meeting after losing or forfeiting their seats for the upcoming year during the meeting’s second item of business. First Selectman Larry Ward was voted out of office in favor of another longtime selectman, Robert Nelson, in a 53-49 tally.

Second Selectman Bob Carter, speaking in the third person, said: “Bob Carter doesn’t want anything to do with it” after he was nominated for re-election. Former town firefighter Shawn Bristol, who led the mass resignation of firemen at a Feb. 20 Select Board meeting after the officials refused to reinstate former deputy chief George Russell and allocate $85,000 for equipment, ultimately lost to Joshua Ard by three votes. When it was announced that Ard received 43 votes and Bristol 41. After the decisions many said “Aww” and “Yes.”

Bristol was re-nominated for third selectman, but lost again to Michael Mayer, this time by a larger margin, 58-39. Like Carter, Larry Hustus, who formerly held the third seat, declined his nomination for re-election.

Though many left after voting for a new Select Board, 110 voters participated on Saturday. Larry Hustus was the only sitting selectman present to answer questions from the audience about the warrant or decisions made in the previous year. At the end of the meeting, citizens applauded Hustus and Town Clerk Doreen Berry for staying to answer questions after Ward and Carter left.

Though John Levers is currently serving as the town’s chief, he will need to be formally appointed at the next Select Board meeting on March 20. Levers was named to the position after 27 members of the fire company resigned, including then-chief Bill Isbister and deputy chief George Russell. Officials from three Waldo County emergency service agencies and fire associations sent a letter in January outlining concerns with Russell’s leadership and training, which prompted the exodus, as the firefighters were unwilling to serve the town without Russell on staff. A fourth official whose name appeared on the letter — Owen Smith, director of the Waldo County Regional Communications Center — later claimed his name was added to the document without his consent.

Prior to the vote, deputy chief Reggie Cunningham told the citizens who turned out that if the ordinance was not passed, it would not be good for the town.

“Before this happened, there were other towns that didn’t want anything to do with Thorndike,” he said. “There will be some impact and repercussions (if the municipal department is not approved). I don’t know. The possibility of Knox terminating the (mutual aid) contract could happen.”

Earlier, Carter had also mentioned that the town of Brooks notified the select board in January that it no longer wanted to participate in mutual aid with Thorndike, which stirred suspicion.

Waldo County Sheriff Jeff Trafton, who had suggested the idea of converting to a municipal department at a Feb. 20 select board meeting, said the move was necessary.

“I’ve lived here in town for 30 years, and this is the second time the fire department has quit,” he said. “This fire — I don’t know what they call themselves, fire company, fire whatever they are, club — they’re not representing the citizens of this town when they all up and quit, all 27 of them. I think that the selectmen need to have some input. … If the citizens are going to vote to spend $30,000 or $40,000 to support the fire department, then the citizens need to have more say through our representation on the select board.” 

Mayer called it one of the best changes the town made on Saturday.

“It’s going to create a better line of communication so the issues from the past don’t repeat themselves and Thorndike stays safe,” he said.

Ard agreed.

“It’s a great step forward,” Ard noted. “It will allow the town to be more involved — no more separation.”

SALT/SAND SHED, ROAD REPAIR

In other business, Thorndike voters approved the transfer of $5,000 from undesignated funds to the salt/sand shed fund account in a first effort to address a Maine Department of Environmental Protection citation issued earlier in 2019. The state’s environmental agency claimed the town had contaminated Hall Brook Stream with road salt and noted that the bridge leading to the existing salt and sand pile is failing. Prior to Saturday, the town had a total of $52,483.27 in the shed fund.

Berry said that the town will likely have a special town meeting to authorize the purchase of a property for the structure, and potentially a second special town meeting to authorize a spending limit for the purchase of that land. Officials have not yet identified a suitable location for the shed.

A large turnout of Thorndike residents lined up to cast ballots and elected a new board of selectmen and overwhelmingly passed an ordinance to create a municipal fire department during the annual Town Meeting on Saturday. Morning Sentinel by David Leaming

After receiving voter approval on Saturday, Thorndike will use $67,794.44 from surplus to pay off the bond it took out to pay for the construction of the town office in September. Voters also approved using $182,032.54 from taxation toward the road paving bonds. The town now faces a total indebtedness of $483,000 for three road bonds. Berry said this leaves Thorndike in good shape as it prepares to take out a bond for the salt and sand shed.

Several individuals in attendance complained about potholes as articles relating to road maintenance came up. A recommendation to spend $65,000 of tax dollars on summer town road maintenance was amended and approved so that $26,000 of that total will come from taxation and $39,000 will come from the current budget year’s surplus funds.

Hustus said that the reason the select board didn’t spend $39,000 on summer roads last year was because “(Ward and Carter) just didn’t want to do anything — and me too.”

After Ard suggested increasing the allotment to fully address the town’s needs — and a citizen said school buses have allegedly been banned from driving on certain roads due to hazardous conditions — Trafton noted that a special town meeting could be scheduled later if the select board felt it needed more funding for road repair.

 A NEW BOARD

Both Ard and Mayer, who campaigned on Facebook together, voiced a desire to improve communications between the town, its departments and the public.

“Communication is the biggest issue in town,” Ard said. “(The new board) will open the door to communicating with the townspeople.”

Mayer also said he hopes to see the town’s leadership get more involved with local events, including the planning of Thorndike’s 200th anniversary, which is this year.

Ard, 32, and Mayer, 31, are both graduates of Mount View High School’s Class of 2005 and have been friends since elementary school, Ard said. Ard owns Permanent Expressions, a tattoo parlor in Belfast, while Mayer is a security officer at Securitas Security Services USA in Bangor and an executive editor of USA Today-affiliated baseball website Metsmerizedonline.com.

Nelson, 78, is a retired employee of Scott Paper Company who has served about 14 years on the Thorndike select board in years past.

“(I’ll do) whatever the town wants,” he said.

 

Meg Robbins — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @megrobbins

Comments are disabled on some stories about sensitive topics.

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.