By Dominik Lobkowicz
As moderator Chris Johnson applauds in the background, Somerville Fire Chief Mike Dostie and former town clerk Ernestine Peaslee accept the town’s 2015
Spirit of America award on behalf of all the town’s residents at town meeting June 13. (D. Lobkowicz photo)
Just over 30 voters in Somerville took about three hours to work through the warrant at town meeting June 13, passing all articles essentially as presented and recommended,
including a $411,744 budget for fiscal year 2015-2016.
In elections June 12, voters re-elected First Selectman Susan Greer with 53 votes over opponent Lance Willis’ 33, and Road Commissioner Jesse Turner (41 votes) over
challengers Steve Childs (28), Daryl Horak (15), and Bryce DeMerchant (4).
Unopposed, Chris Johnson was re-elected to the Sheepscot Valley RSU 12 Board of Directors with 72 votes.
Though the municipal budget had a variety of changes this year, most were relatively small and most passed with only light discussion. Overall, the budget is a
decrease of $9,589 or 2.28 percent from 2014-2015.
The biggest increase in the budget, however, a $15,800 or 37.8 percent increase to the Somerville Volunteer Fire Department’s request, generated a heated discussion
between several residents and officials.
The $57,600 request was recommended by the budget committee and the selectmen as part of a $71,100 article for intergovernmental transfers, include the fire
department request, $3,500 for adult education, and $10,000 in fees for the Tri-County Solid Waste Management Organization in Union.
According to Fire Chief Mike Dostie, the increase this year is a one-time bump to get the department’s equipment, such as turnout gear and air packs, up to snuff and
avoid potential fines.
The department’s turnout gear is between nine and 20 years old, and three of the firefighters don’t even have any, Dostie said.
The department’s request also includes funds for repairs at its two fire stations and for the installation of two hydrants, Dostie said previously.
At the meeting, Dostie said the department expects its request to go back down to normal operating expenses in the future.
When the article came up at the meeting, resident Beth Crummett moved the article be approved at $37,500, including just $24,000 for the fire department.
Crummett said most people in Somerville live on $2,000 or less each month, and her thought was the fire department could live on the same budget and raise any other
funds they need on their own.
Jim Grenier, a member of the fire department’s board, pointed out that voters had just approved $10,000 for maintenance of the town’s road grader – a piece of
equipment that, he said, would only cost $100,000 if bought new.
“We have four pieces of equipment in the fire department which, if bought new, would cost over $2 million,” Grenier said.
The amount of state and federal mandates put on the fire department are “incredible,” and a municipal department would cost “considerably more” than the volunteer
department, Grenier said.
Howard Crummett, Beth’s husband, called the fire department “just a cellar saver,” which Fire Chief Mike Dostie took offense to.
According to Dostie, the department has only lost two houses in the 32 years he’s been on the department. He said people don’t seem to ever look at the number of
homes the department has saved.
“I think that’s a damn good record,” Dostie said.
The amount for the article was ultimately amended to the recommended amount of $71,100, and the amended motion passed 22 votes to 11.
One other article, a $201,175 budget for road construction, maintenance, and repair, also generated a little heat. The overall recommendation was down about $18,000
over the current year.
As residents were discussing the article, concerns were raised about the timeliness of repairs to town roads.
According to First Selectman Susan Greer, the town has experienced some trouble over the last year and half getting some of its regular road maintenance done, but
also said Road Commissioner Jesse Turner has done a lot of work over the last two months to improve the situation.
Discussion touched on changing the road commissioner position from an elected position to an appointed one – as was done with several other town positions at town
meeting last year – but residents ended up voting to end discussion and approved the article as recommended, 30 votes to 2.
The one article that did not pass as originally written or recommended was one asking for authorization for the selectmen to appropriate money from the sale of any
town-acquired property to pay for the costs associated with the sale.
The wording of the article was amended to replace “appropriate” with “expend,” and passed without opposition.
At the meeting, Somerville’s Spirit of America award was presented to the town’s residents as a whole.
Volunteers stand to be recognized at Somerville’s town meeting June 13. The town’s Spirit of America award was given to all town residents for 2015. (D. Lobkowicz photo)
Third Selectman Darlene Landry asked the volunteers at the meeting to stand and be recognized, and former town clerk Ernestine Peaslee and Fire Chief Mike Dostie
accepted the award on behalf of the residents.
Town Clerk Kelly Payson-Roopchand also donated a copy of her new book, “Birth, Death, and a Tractor” to the town office for residents to read.
The book is on the history of Somerville and the family of the late Don Hewett, who received the town’s Spirit of America award last year and epitomized the spirit
of giving without expectation of any return, Payson-Roopchand said.