MANCHESTER — Voters at Town Meeting approved a hotly contested proposal to make the fire chief’s job full-time as well as proposals to cap the number of marijuana stores in town, charge a fee to accident victims’ insurance companies to cover the Fire Department’s costs if the department responds, and define what makes a plastic bag “reusable.”

Residents narrowly approved a controversial proposal to make the fire chief’s job a full-time position, with a salary of $37,440.

Town Manager E. Patrick Gilbert said the position used to be a volunteer position, but last year it went to a part-time, 20-hour-per-week position. He said town officials proposed to make the position full-time because the number of people volunteering to be firefighters in Maine has been in a rapid decline, and Manchester’s department is no different, as the department now has roughly a third of the firefighters it had years ago.

Residents voted 24-19 to approve $37,440, to make the fire chief’s position, currently held by Frank Wozniak, full-time.

Some residents said having a fire chief at the station won’t really help fight fires, given that volunteer firefighters still would be needed because one person can’t effectively fight a fire. They expressed concerns about what the chief would do to justify the expense, and that if the position would be moved to full-time with $37,000 in pay, it should be opened up so residents in town could seek the position.

“Why do we need a full-time fire chief in a town of 2,500 residents?” said John Black, who was a firefighter in Manchester for 23 years but now serves on the Readfield Fire Department. “We’re talking a lot of money here. What is a fire chief going to do for eight hours a day? We don’t need a full-time fire chief right now.”

The department has about 15 firefighters, who are paid for their time at fire scenes.

A handful of firefighters attending the meeting left in the midst of the discussion of the proposal, before the vote took place, after their pagers went off,  indicating there was an emergency in need of their response.

Residents also approved a proposal to allow the town to seek payment from the insurance companies of victims who are in car accidents or other incidents in Manchester that require a response from the department, to cover the department’s cost of responding to that incident.

The ordinance specifies that payment would be sought only from people or companies that have insurance coverage.

“It’s not that we’re going to charge any residents. We will not send you a bill,” said Selectman Bob Gasper, a member of the Fire Department. “Most accidents in Manchester are commuter people, not town residents.”

Residents overwhelmingly approved a change to a local ordinance, approved by residents last year, that bans plastic bags from most stores in town.

The addition to the ordinance more specifically defines what is considered to be a reusable bag, and thus allowed to be used at stores. The new definition specifies reusable plastic bags must be at least 4 mils thick and have seams that are sewn or stitched.

“Some people felt taking a plastic bag and printing ‘reusable bag’ on it kind of skirted the town ordinance,” said Gilbert, who did not name the store he referenced. “That really wasn’t the intent of the ordinance. We’re trying to plug that hole up.”

Residents also approved a proposed new retail marijuana stores ordinance would cap the number of marijuana retail stores, whether they sell to medical patients or, pending the approval of state rules, recreational marijuana to adults, at three stores total.

There are currently four medical marijuana stores in town, according to town officials, all of which would be grandfathered by the ordinance and allowed to continue operating. Thus, no new stores would be allowed into town, unless at least two of the existing stores leave town or go out of business.

Residents at last year’s Town Meeting approved an ordinance regulating where and how marijuana businesses can locate in Manchester, but that ordinance did not set a maximum number of stores.

About 50 people attended Wednesday’s meeting.

On Tuesday residents elected local officials, including filling two selectmen’s positions.

They voted for incumbents Tom Oliver, with 116 votes, and Paula Thomas, with 179 votes.

However, Oliver told town officials before the election, but after ballots had already been printed with his name on it, that he is moving out of town and will not take the position.

Moderator Douglas Stevenson said the town would have an election, to be scheduled by selectmen, to elect someone to Oliver’s position.

Elected as trustees of the Sanitary District were Clifford Fletcher with 185 votes, and Brad Luker with four write-in votes.

Kim Bowie, with 35 votes, and Louise Ridley, with 23 votes, were elected to the Regional School Unit 38 board.

About 50 people attended Thursday’s meeting.


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