At press time, First Selectman Billie Willard said the date and time of the special town meeting was still under discussion. She said a decision would not be announced until after a meeting set for 2 p.m. Wednesday. – Ed.
A petitioned article to turn ownership of the Alna firehouse back to the fire department appearing on the July 8 special town meeting warrant promises to attract public attention.
Recent developments have made any peace seemingly achieved at the March town meeting between the fire department and selectmen tenuous at best.
The 110-4 vote at the March town meeting approving a $200,000 loan to construct an addition to the firehouse the department believed it owned for years, left the public in attendance with better feelings, even though one of the selectmen voted against it.
Sparks have since flared up with the board’s discovery of the town’s 1950 stamped deed it had re-recorded at the county Registry of Deeds causing fire officials to wonder why the board did not inform them before doing so, especially since construction was well underway.
Stamps indicate it was recorded at one time but the registry was unable to locate it in a quick search, according to Second Selectman Tom Smith. Smith said earlier it would require a more extensive search.
At least two of the selectmen have voiced their desire to have the town own it while the fire department has sought to regain ownership through the petition. Since then, two of the selectmen, First Selectman Billie Willard and Smith, have questioned whether the article as petitioned has to be submitted word for word.
“We want to make sure all the ‘I’s’ are dotted and ‘T’s’ crossed,” she said.
In his column last week, Chris Cooper, longtime town meeting moderator, spoke of the local conflagration in graphic terms.
“None of it was necessary, all of it could have been avoided,” he wrote. “We are not firmly set, [and] too late to save, toward the deciding battle in our sad and stupid civil war.”
On its side of the argument, the fire department has reasons for wanting ownership of the firehouse, which it has always thought it owned until recently, including more flexibility for residents’ use of the expanded facility, according to Kathy Pendleton, fire department president.
“Things have always worked in the past,” she said. “We keep doing everything we have been told to do.”
Pendleton said in a phone interview the department retains insurance coverage for the use of the building for baby showers, wedding receptions and other uses which otherwise would be expensive, since the town would have to charge a head fee.
“We’re not dropping the coverage,” she said. “We’re hoping to get the building back.”
First Selectman Billie Willard said Monday the fire article would definitely be on the warrant along with at least seven other articles for town vote, but both the town’s legal counsel, Paul Gibbons and Atty. Eliot Field, representing the department, were to review it for any legal problems before finalizing the warrant by this Wednesday morning.
“I believe strongly it is going to be there,” she said. “We can’t keep dragging our feet on this.”
Willard and Third Selectman David Seigars were the only selectmen present for the regular session Monday at which the board decided to hold the special town meeting, place and time to be announced, which in the past has been held in June.
The board abruptly decided to cancel a public hearing on its own article and the petitioned article for a referendum it planned to have presumably before it held a special town meeting.
Apparently the referendum idea failed to pass muster. The board discovered, in consultation with the Maine Municipal Association, that the town has an open town meeting system and must follow that concerning the issue.
“We’re not a referendum town,” Willard said at Monday’s session.
Subsequently, board members went back to the table to come up with the special town meeting next week at which the general public will have opportunity to discuss, debate, and vote its mind on the matter along with the other articles the board decides to place on the warrant.
The town voted in March to raise and appropriate $7500 for the shed reserve account, which Willard suggested should go to a shed maintenance account for the public to decide at the special town meeting next week.
Trask estimated a two-foot high wall to fortify the structure would cost $21,350 and a three-foot high wall would cost $24,180 to keep the sand and salt from getting onto the metal and causing corrosion.
The board also discussed Wiscasset’s query about sharing the cost of a new trailer to transport garbage from the local transfer station to the disposal center in Orrington.
Similar to Westport Island’s negative response earlier in the day, the board determined since it pays annually under a contract for residents to make use of the station, it should not have to contribute to the cost. Board members said maintenance costs are included in its share of the transfer station budget.
Both Westport Island and Alna pay an annual fee based on population.