Budget committee agrees with selectmen on all but two articles

by Mary Grow

China Budget Committee members agree with the board of selectmen on all but two of the money-related articles in the warrant for the April 6 town business meeting.

At a Feb. 11 meeting, the six members present voted unanimously to support most proposed expenditures, including the major ones for the town administration, highway department and transfer station.

They declined to endorse the selectmen’s request to voters to increase each selectman’s annual compensation from $1,000 to $1,800, adding $4,000 to the budget. Budget Committee Chairman Robert Batteese supported the request; the other five members recommended rejecting it, on the ground that other departments were being asked to minimize expenditures.

A more significant disagreement is over stipends for volunteer firefighters, introduced to encourage more people to join China’s volunteer departments and more members to respond to fire calls.

At their Feb. 5 budget workshop, selectmen recommended reducing the amount for stipends from $33,000 to $22,700.

Representatives of two of the three departments protested the reduction to the budget committee. They claimed that selectmen directed Town Manager Dennis Heath to revise the figure the afternoon of Feb. 5 and acted on it that evening, without consulting firefighters. They learned of the change only when Heath emailed after the meeting, Weeks Mills Fire Chief William Van Wickler said.

South China Chief Richard Morse resented the lack of a chance to protest to selectmen and said the selectmen’s proposal “does not deal with the need to encourage participation.”

Van Wickler said stipends have increased the number of his department members who respond to calls and who stay to clean up afterward. Calling for fairness, he said he would like funds to reward those who respond most often, including the chiefs who go on almost every call. The selectmen’s proposed amount would allow each chief’s annual stipend for being chief, but would leave no money for per-call recognition.

Selectman Ronald Breton defended the selectboard’s position as part of efforts to control the municipal budget in a year when “the school and the county are gonna kill us.” Neither the Regional School Unit #18 nor the Kennebec County budget is included in the April 6 warrant.

Budget Committee members unanimously voted to raise the amount for stipends to $33,000. Their recommendation for the fire and rescue budget totals $181,499; the selectmen recommend $171,199.

At the end of the evening, the April 6 warrant had 30 articles. Heath intended to add one more, the usual request to authorize selectmen to apply for grants and appropriate matching funds if needed. Budget committee members unanimously supported adding the article.


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