RUMFORD — The Board of Selectmen fielded a variety of questions and comments from residents Thursday evening about the municipal budget vote in October.
It will be the fourth vote on budget articles since June, when all 12 money articles totaling $7.5 million were rejected. Reduced amounts were presented to voters in July and eight money articles rejected again. In August, another set of recommendations were all rejected by voters.
The selectmen and Finance Committee recommended the following amounts, which will be voted on in October.
* $625,000 for the Fire Department
* $716,000 for the Police Department
* $874,000 for Public Works
* $650,000 for Public Safety
* $60,000 for General Assistance
* $749,000 for General Government
* $358,000 for Capital Accounts
* $1,276,000 for Unclassified Accounts
The amounts total $5,308,000.
Resident Vincent Caruso told the board that he was frustrated at how the Finance Committee “voted exactly how the selectmen did” on recommended spending.
“Why do we even have a Finance Committee if they're just going to mirror what you guys are going to do?” Caruso asked. “They're just voting the way you guys do so they can steamroll through the process and get a budget passed.”
Caruso, who previously served on the Finance Committee, said he believes people should vote however they want without worrying that they are in the minority.
“It takes courage to go out there and do what the voters want,” Caruso said, “and if you guys don't have the courage to do it, then we're going to have to get people in there who do.”
Chairman Greg Buccina replied, “Look, three years ago, the Police Department budget was over $1 million. We've lowered it to what it is now. Each one of the budgets over the last three years have been less than the previous one, and it was always passed by the vast majority.”
Buccina added, “If you're going to swim in a cold lake, do you dip your toe first to see how cold it is or do you jump in? I don't believe we can go from last year's budget to how low we are now without losing some of our services.”
Finance Committee member Richard Greene agreed with Caruso's assessment of the Finance Committee, explaining that he “wanted to vote differently than the Finance Committee,” but didn't feel that he was able to.
“Speaking for myself, I felt like we had to go with the selectmen so we could get a budget passed,” Greene said. “It's almost October and we don't have a budget in yet. We need to do what we need to do.”
Later, Greene added, “We've cut over $1 million from the budget so far. I've heard people saying that it's a nominal change. If anyone really thinks that a million dollars is a nominal change, then let's add a million dollars to the budget and see what they think. The decreased budget is already affecting people. It's time to approve a budget.”
Fire Chief Robert Chase attempted to explain to residents what effect that the lower budget would have on the Fire Department.
“I have yet to have a single citizen come in and ask about any of the line items in my budget,” Chase told the board. “I'm glad to offer people information on how the budget will effect our department and glad to answer questions, but nobody has come in to ask. It's important that people educate themselves on these questions, because the lack of a budget is wreaking havoc on our departments.”
Chase said, “Fires are different than they were 20 years ago.”
“Right now, we try to get four firefighters to the scene within seven minutes,” he said. “The cuts that we've made make it difficult to do that. We've had to lay off two people, which leaves us running the station with two firefighters. When you include the firefighter from Mexico who helps us, that's only three firefighters responding to a scene.”
The budget vote is scheduled from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 8, at the American Legion hall.