NORRIDGEWOCK — In response to a straw poll taken at the town’s 2019 Town Meeting indicating residents wanted to hire two full-time firefighters, selectmen applied for a federal grant to help pay for them, but the town did not receive it. On this year’s town warrant, residents will get the opportunity to decide whether they want to hire full-time firefighters and pay them $50,000.

Monday’s Town Meeting at Mill Stream Elementary School is slated to begin at 7:30 p.m. Voting in local elections starts at 8 a.m. and ends at 7 p.m.

This year’s town warrant lists 50 articles, including the Host Community Agreement Between Town of Norridgewock and Waste Management Disposal Services, Automobile Graveyards and Junkyards Ordinance, Local Food & Community Self-Governance Ordinance and a Food Sovereignty Ordinance, an appropriation of more than $1.6 million in anticipated revenues to reduce tax commitments, and the question of whether to remove speed tables on Upper Main Street.

The firefighter and speed table questions will be decided by secret ballot.

David Jones, fire chief for the Norridgewock Fire Department, at the department in Norridgewock on Wednesday. Morning Sentinel photo by Michael G. Seamans

Fire Chief David Jones, 68, said in an interview Wednesday that discussions about having full-time firefighters came up at last year’s town meeting. With support from voters at Town Meeting, selectmen and the department applied for a Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response, or SAFER, grant from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency, but the town did not receive the grant.

“(The grant) was made for departments that already have full-time positions and are looking to add more, not to start one,” Jones said.

The department, which responds to about 200 calls a year for the towns of Norridgewock and Mercer, has 18 on-call volunteers. The work is paid, but there is no set schedule for the firefighters.

The article on the town warrant calls for voters to authorize two full-time Norridgewock Fire Department firefighters to begin no sooner than July 1 and for $50,000 to cover the cost of the new positions through the six months remaining in 2020. If the positions are approved this year, the request from the fire department in FY 2021 will be a minimum of $100,000 to adequately fund the positions, but more likely in the range of $120,000 to 130,000 per year, according to Town Manager Richard LaBelle.

Fire Capt. Todd Pineo said that the department mostly needs daytime coverage as many of their volunteers can work only evenings and weekends. Adding full-time positions also takes the burden off the on-call volunteers, who are paid per call.

Pineo said a committee is working on a firefighter’s job description consistent with town policies. If the article is approved, he said the positions will be advertised and that the hiring process would be open and competitive.

“There are no pre-selected candidates,” Pineo said. “We would not require them to have medical qualifications.”

Both Pineo and Jones said that there has not been any turnout at public hearings on the matter and they fear that not many community members are aware of the question.

“We’re concerned that people don’t know about it,” Pineo said. “I’d rather people know about it. Then they could ask questions.”

“I don’t think it’s going to be a big burden to the town,” Jones said.

Labelle said that $600,000 in excise tax revenues and $550,000 from the host agreement with Waste Management make up the largest shares of the $1.6 million in anticipated revenues that would reduce the tax commitment.

The question about speed tables on Upper Main Street arrived on the warrant after the town received a petition from Bruce Obert in January to remove the speed tables on Upper Main Street. If approved by voters, the vote will also prohibit the installation of future speed tables on Upper Main Street.

The speed tables were installed in 2016 at the request of Upper Main Street residents who asked the town to install speed bumps to slow down vehicles on the residential street, where the speed limit is 25 miles per hour.

Upper Main Street is a quarter-mile stretch of road that connects Main Street and Winding Hill Road. Since their installation, residents of Wade Street, an alternate route to Winding Hill Road, have cited an increase in traffic on that road to avoid the speed tables.

Bruce Obert, of Bruce Obert Contractors, has previously told the Morning Sentinel that he would like the speed tables removed and claims they were illegally installed.

“If you drive across it in a normal car, it’s not much of an issue,” Obert has said. “I drive a dump truck filled with gravel over those bumps at least 24 times a day.”

Since the tables were installed, Obert said that he has had to replace two airbags at $300 a piece.

Voters will be asked if they want to repeal the Local Food & Community Self-Governance ordinance. Labelle said that when the food sovereignty ordinance was first passed at the request of residents at a special town meeting in June, it was quick to be adopted but needed to be reviewed by a new attorney retained by the town to ensure that it did not conflict with state statutes.

Voters will be asked if they want the Town of Norridgewock Food Sovereignty Ordinance to be enacted. Food sovereignty allows local producers to bypass some state regulations when selling directly to consumers in the town. The ordinance allows producers and processors of local food to enter into private agreements with patrons to waive liability for consumption of local food when making sales or an exchange on their own property.

It does not pertain to meat or poultry products, which still would be required to comply with the Maine Meat and Poultry Inspection Program.

Voters will also be asked if they want to repeal the automobile graveyards and junkyards ordinance.

A full list of the articles on the warrant can be found on the town’s website.

This story has been updated to include the cost of two full-time firefighters through the 12 months of fiscal year 2021 if they are approved for July through December of 2020.


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