Vassalboro town officials and voters pulled off their June 22 open town meeting in style, with Covid-19 guidelines observed.
The gym at Vassalboro Community School was effectively turned into two rooms by a solid curtain that stretched almost from wall to wall, leaving space for moderator Richard Thompson to stand at one end and see into both rooms. Each side had no more than 50 well-spaced chairs; and the approximately 70 voters, most with masks, divided themselves evenly enough so that neither room approached the 50-person limit.
Entrance lines were well controlled by town office staff and volunteers. Multiple exits avoided crowding as the meeting ended, about an hour after it started.
All 56 warrant articles were approved, many in groups rather than one by one. As a result, Vassalboro is ready to start the new fiscal year July 1 with municipal and school budgets in place.
Selectmen expected the request to appropriate more than $360,000 (including interest over five years) for a new truck for the Vassalboro Volunteer Fire Department would be controversial. It was the only item discussed (one other generated a question and answer), but the near-unanimous vote to buy it suggests “controversial” was not the right term for the June 22 voters.
Selectmen and the budget committee recommended not buying the truck. Lauchlin Titus, Chairman of the Selectboard, explained that his board was not opposed to a new fire truck, but with 2020-21 revenues uncertain, selectmen did not want to commit the town this year. Two major sources of town income, he pointed out, are excise taxes, which increase as residents buy new vehicles, and state funding, which increases as the state’s economy grows.
Vassalboro volunteer fire department member Michael Vashon said the new truck would replace a 1981 vehicle that needs between $14,000 and $17,000 worth of work to restore it to operating condition. Firefighters do not want to put that much money into a 39-year-old truck, he said.
Department member Heather Hemphill, who described herself as a third-generation firefighter, said her experience in a repair garage taught her that a vehicle needing that much work will soon need more.
Christina Smedberg, recently moved to Vassalboro from Albion, praised the people who serve as volunteer firefighters. Vassalboro has a small department for so many residents, she said; “At least give the guys the right equipment.”
Tom Richards, who joined the department in 1957 at the age of 17, told voters, “We need this truck.” It won’t get cheaper if buying it is postponed, he added.
Vashon said the department has raised more than $500,000 in recent years for supplies and equipment, including enough to cover the first $72, 000-plus payment on the new truck. Firefighters will continue to raise funds toward the second payment, he said.
In the fire department report in the 2019 town report, new Chief Walker Thompson lists successful grant applications in 2019. The town report is dedicated to former fire chief Eric Rowe, who retired from the position after 30 years but remains in the department he has served for 40 years.
Titus, who is retiring from the board of selectmen as of Vassalboro’s July 14 election, received the 2020 Spirit of America award for volunteerism. Making the presentation, Selectman Robert Browne noted Titus’s years of service on numerous committees and in numerous organizations and praised his “willingness to listen to everyone.”
Voters re-elected budget committee members Rick Denico, Jr., and Douglas Phillips and elected new members Richard Bradstreet, Michael Poulin and Frank Richards.
Vassalboro’s annual town meeting is recessed until 8 a.m., Tuesday, July 14, when polls will open, again at Vassalboro Community School, for state voting and two local questions. The local questions are:
- The annual referendum asking voters to approve or reject the school budget approved June 22; and
- Elections for selectboard (Barbara Redmond is unopposed to succeed Titus) and for school board (Erin Libby Loiko seeks another term; Zachary Smith is the only candidate for the seat being vacated by Susan Tuthill).
Polls will be open from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m., July 14. Absentee ballots are available in advance from the town office for voters who do not wish to come to the school; those who vote in person are asked to wear masks.