CHINA: Firefighters’ stipend argument continues; LaVerdiere walks out, resigns

by Mary Grow

The argument over volunteer firefighters’ stipends that China selectmen have conducted intermittently for a year and a half continued at their Oct. 15 meeting, culminating with Selectman Jeffrey LaVerdiere announcing he was tired of arguing, resigning from the board and walking out.

As of Oct. 22, Town Clerk Becky Hapgood, who attended the meeting in the temporary absence of Town Manager Dennis Heath, was unable to reach LaVerdiere to find out whether he intends to confirm his resignation in writing.

At the March 2018 town meeting, voters approved $40,000 to be distributed equally among China Rescue and the three volunteer fire departments and used as stipends to help encourage new members to join emergency services groups. Selectmen and firefighters were to sign a memorandum of agreement setting forth rules for sharing the money among volunteers.

A draft memorandum has been repeatedly discussed. Heath sought reactions from the state labor department, and after approval there from the federal labor department. Hapgood said despite weekly telephone calls the manager has been unable to get a federal opinion.

At the Oct. 15 meeting, selectmen had a warrant – a request to pay – for the $40,000. Selectman Ronald Breton said fire department representatives have not signed the memorandum and the $40,000 should not be handed over until they do.

LaVerdiere said other towns’ officials told him they did not think any memorandum was needed. He argued the selectmen should show their trust in the firefighters by signing the check without further delay.

Board Chairman Robert MacFarland said the issue is not trust, but bookkeeping: municipal officials should have a signed contract with any private entity, including a fire department or rescue service, that performs services for the town.

Breton said he was not ready to vote on expending the funds until federal labor officials approved. At that point LaVerdiere left and the remaining board members tabled the question.

The next evening they held a brief special meeting where, Hapgood reported, they signed the warrant approving payment of the $40,000 when fire department representatives sign the memorandum.

The Oct. 15 meeting was preceded by two public hearings, one on the Nov. 5 local ballot questions and one on proposed amendments to appendices to the General Assistance Ordinance. Three residents attended. Neil Farrington asked general questions about the ballot questions and no one commented on the General Assistance Ordinance.

Selectmen told Farrington the five questions asking if residents want to allow medical marijuana operations in town will have no effect on Nathan White’s Route 3 business, which opened before the Dec. 2018 deadline for “grandfathering.”

The final ballot question asks voters to choose between two extra-hours proposals for the town office (the current Saturday morning, or Thursday evening until 7:00). A note says the question is advisory only, but MacFarland assured the audience the Selectboard will abide by the popular will.

During the meeting, selectmen approved the General Assistance Ordinance changes, which adjust maximum amounts allowed for assistance categories.

TIF (Tax Increment Financing) Committee member Tom Michaud reported on work to improve three fire roads that is partly funded by TIF money. He invited other China residents who believe their fire roads need work to reduce run-off to contact him, Peter Caldwell or Bill Powell.

Michaud established that when he (or any other resident) is out of town and wants to comment at a selectmen’s meeting, he should look at the agenda, posted on the website a few days before the meeting, and email or otherwise send comments to which board members can respond.

Selectmen unanimously appointed Edward Brownell a member of the recreation committee.

They unanimously set fees for after-the-act permits issued by the codes officer or planning board at twice the amount the fee would have been if the application had been filed before the work started.

The next regular China selectmen’s meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Monday, Oct. 28.

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