Firefighters urge Bath not to make budget cuts

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BATH — Concerns were aired over proposed fire-rescue cuts at the City Council’s budget hearing on Wednesday.

The council will vote on next year’s $14.8 municipal budget on Wednesday, June 6. The spending plan is an increase of about $674,000 over the current year.

Included in the budget is $9.3 million in the general fund, about $808,000 in the capital fund, $1.8 million in the landfill fund, and $2.1 million in the sewer fund. Also included is about $113,000 for the Bath City Bus, nearly $80,000 for the train station and trolley, about $537,000 for the Midcoast Center for Higher Education and $50,000 for overlay.

Municipal taxes would increase nearly 2 percent, or about $323,000, to $7.1 million. Including potential increases to the tax rate from school and county costs – 2.7 percent and 0.2 percent, respectively – the city could see a total tax hike of nearly 5.2 percent.

Finance Director Juli Millett has attributed Bath’s municipal tax increase to rising costs of health insurance and fuel, a $45,000 state decrease in municipal revenue sharing, and a 3.4 percent increase in salaries for union and non-union municipal employees that had been deferred last year.

Included in the budget is the elimination of one of the city’s three ambulances, the sale of the vehicle is expected to generate revenue of $10,000. The city also proposes to eliminate the Fire Department’s four-person volunteer force, due in part to dwindling volunteer membership interest, which could save $9,500 in stipends, training and uniforms.

City Manager Bill Giroux said only one of the four volunteers lives in Bath.

Some members of the public opposed those cuts. Members of Bath Firefighters Local 1611 defended the need for a third ambulance Wednesday in a letter to the City Council, pointing out that the vehicle has been used for 364 calls in the past two years.

“Several times a month we are dispatched to a third ambulance call,” the letter said. “On some occasions, the first rescue will respond directly from the hospital to a fourth call while the second and third trucks are busy with their patients. Without the capability of a third ambulance, a person suffering from a heart attack could be waiting for an ambulance to come from another town. This will drastically increase the response time.”

The letter also pointed out that the ambulance is the only truck the department has with the capability of utilizing a bariatric stretcher system.

“It would pose a serious safety concern to both the patient and the crew to be without the availability of the ramps, winch, and over-sized stretcher as we frequently transport patients in excess of 500 pounds,” the letter said. “Although it is possible to retrofit a current ambulance with the stretcher system, this will also come as a cost to the City.”

Giroux said the city had earlier considered not cutting the third ambulance in next year’s budget. But the council had been looking to save money by not replacing that vehicle in the near future, he noted.

Norman Kenney supported maintaining a volunteer force.

“I am very concerned, as a former (Bath fire) chief, and as a citizen of Bath,” he said of the proposed cut.

He added later that he wished the council would add money to next year’s budget for volunteer firefighters, “so that we can have 10 or a dozen guys, anyway. I know if I’m fighting a fire, and (all I have) is just two or three guys with me, and I can’t expect anybody to come and help me, I’m going to be discouraged.”

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.