RUMFORD — The Finance Committee voted Tuesday night to approve the same municipal budget recommendations selectmen did last Thursday.

They are:

* $625,000 for the Fire Department

* $716,000 for the Police Department

* $874,000 for Public Works

* $650,000 for Public Safety

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* $60,000 for General Assistance

* $749,000 for General Government

* $358,000 for Capital Accounts

*$1,276,000 for Unclassified Accounts

The Finance Committee votes were unanimous on all but one recommendation.

Voters in June turned down all 12 money articles, which totaled $7.5 million. Reduced amounts were presented to voters in July and eight were rejected again. In August, another set of recommendations were all rejected by voters.

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Much of Tuesday night’s discussion centered on the Rumford Fire Department budget and how the reduced amount would affect fire Chief Robert Chase’s ability to provide service to the town.

“The $625,000 amount represents a 15 percent cut to our operation budget, which is equal to two positions,” Chase said. Anything less than that will continue to decrease the level of service the department can provide to the town, he said. 

Chairman Dieter Kreckel told Chase, “I’m going to play the devil’s advocate here tonight. I know that the Save Rumford group is trying to achieve a particular number.”

Save Rumford, a local activist group, has presented a petition seeking a municipal spending cap of $6.2 million.

“If we were to lower the Fire Department budget to, say, $600,000, what kind of effect would that have?” Kreckel asked.

Chase replied, “That would be another firefighter position and would force us to go to a two-man staff for at least two-thirds of the time. We’re looking at a significant change in what we can do in the early stages of fires. It’s becoming more important than ever to get water on the fire within the first seven minutes.”

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Save Rumford, a local activist group, has presented a petition seeking a municipal spending cap of $6.2 million.

Committee member Richard Greene told the chief that he believes the Fire Department needs to better clarify to the community what the budget cuts will mean for everybody.

“Quite honestly, I think there are people in the community who don’t understand what these cuts would mean,” Greene said. “As a citizen of the town, I think it’d be helpful if you published some information out there, whether it’s the newspaper or something else.”

Greene later said he believes if the Finance Committee recommends a different budget amount than the Board of Selectmen, the budget will fail to pass again.
“I don’t like it, but I don’t think we have a choice but to agree with the selectmen right now,” he said. “If we split the vote again, the budget will not get passed, and we can’t be this far into the year without a budget.”

Chase agreed, adding that it’s “incredibly hard to run a department without a vision.”

“We’re passing by different opportunities right now, whether it’s purchasing equipment or training officers,” Chase said. “I can’t do anything because I don’t know if the money will be there or not. I’ve said it before, but working on the budget has become more about getting a budget passed instead of focusing on the level of service we provide.”

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Following the approval of the Fire Department budget, Public Works Superintendent Andy Russell told the Finance Committee that the reduced Public Works budget means there would be a three-position reduction, which would mean lengthier response times during winter storms.

“We won’t be able to work overtime, depending on the storm,” Russell said. “If the budget is approved, we’ll likely have men indoors from 10 p.m. to 3 a.m. Things will certainly be changing, but we’ll do what we can with what we have.”

A budget hearing is scheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 19, followed by a town vote Tuesday, Oct. 8. Polls will be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the American Legion Hall.

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