SOUTHWEST HARBOR — Selectmen during a budget workshop Tuesday agreed to increase stipends for the chief and other officers of the volunteer fire department and to add $15,000 to a line item established for the purchase of property near the Manset Town Dock.
Selectmen began working on the budget for the 2017-2018 fiscal year on Monday and are expected to conclude the series of three workshops on Thursday.
On Tuesday, fire Chief Jack Martel requested an increase in the stipends during discussion of the proposed budget for the fire department. He also asked for the department’s budget to include $1,200 to hire someone to periodically clean the bathrooms, meeting room and other areas of the fire station.
Martel’s proposal for distributing the stipends was questioned by selectmen, who debated on how to allocate the funds fairly. In the end, they decided on a 4 percent increase for the deputy chief and four other officers.
Martel proposed a 30 percent increase in his own stipend. In making a case for the raise, he pointed out he is employed seasonally, and during the slack winter months, he puts in considerable hours working on fire department matters.
“During the winter, I’m like a full-time chief,” he said.
Town Clerk Marilyn Lowell provided selectmen with a sample of stipends paid to other volunteer fire chiefs in the area. Chiefs in Lamoine and Hancock are paid $3,000 annually, $4,000 in Trenton and $1,800 in Sullivan.
Selectman George Jellison argued that there was no way to make a fair comparison.
“We don’t know what their actual duties are,” he said of the other fire chiefs, adding that the extra service Martel provides in the winter is extra “value we’re getting.”
“The fire department has always been a bargain as far as I’m concerned,” Jellison said.
Selectmen voted 5-0 to increase the chief’s stipend to $8,500, give a 4 percent increase to the other officers and add the $1,200 for cleaning.
As proposed, the $78,379 budget for the fire department is $2,550 less than for this fiscal year.
Efforts to include the purchase of a pickup truck for use by the harbormaster were put on hold after selectmen decided to seek legal advice about the proper way money should be transferred from the capital improvement plan account.
Town Manager Don Lagrange was proposing that a lease-purchase plan be used to buy the $25,000 truck and was recommending the budget include $6,875 for payments during the fiscal year. A motion to use money from the Manset Town Dock line of the harbor capital improvement plan was seconded.
Resident Kristin Hutchins questioned using these funds for the purpose without getting the approval of voters. The Manset Town Dock line of the plan was set up for a specific purpose, which voters agreed to in approving the budget at the annual town meeting. Shouldn’t voters have a say in using funds for another purpose, she asked.
Selectmen withdrew the motion and will revisit the purchase at a later meeting. They also are considering buying the truck outright instead of financing the purchase.