PARIS — Selectmen on Monday will address a petition from Budget Committee member Richard Merz, requesting a townwide vote to restore $145,629 to the Fire Department budget.

Monday’s meeting begins at 6:30 p.m. at the Town Office, 33 Market Square.

Town Clerk Liz Knox certified 245 of the 275 signatures on the document, which was tabled at the Aug. 14 selectmen meeting.

Board Chairman Scott Buffington said the Fire Department budget cut in June leaves $239,011, which provides for roughly 13 weeks of part-time firefighter coverage until around Oct. 1.

Taking that timeline into consideration, Buffington released a tentative plan for staffing the Fire Department going forward. Changes include:

• Keeping Fire Chief Scott Hunter on during the transition from having some paid part-time firefighters to having all volunteers;

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• Appointing Deputy Fire Chief Jon Longley as chief with a $5,000 annual stipend plus hourly wages, which has been done in the past. Hunter is earning $26.60 per hour for 30 hours per week;

• Establishing the types of calls to which the department will respond, including fire calls, automobile accidents, vehicle extrications, technical rescues and mutual aid calls; and 

• Hiring a daytime firefighter to staff the station Monday through Friday, to do routine equipment checks, issue burn permits, give tours of the department and respond to calls.

The budget cut sparked an outcry from some residents.

In November 2016, 17 of the part-timers on the force voted to form a union, and talks between the town and the Teamsters union started in May and are ongoing.

Since then, the Teamsters have filed three complaints with the Maine Labor Relations Board against the town:

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• One in June regarding an alleged change in work hours for part-timers, which the town challenged and is going to a hearing before the Labor Relations Board in Augusta;

• One in July claiming bad faith negotiations when Lorne Smith, secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local 340, said Town Manager Vic Hodgkins refused to answer questions about the future of the part-time firefighters program. The town challenged the complaint, saying Smith did not give them enough time for the 10-day notice to force Paris officials back to the negotiating table; and

• One filed Aug. 22 regarding Budget Committee Chairman Rick Little’s motion at the June town meeting to reduce the Fire Department’s budget by more than $145,000. The intention was to scrap the part-time firefighters system, return to an all-volunteer department and reduce the fire chief’s salary to a $5,000 stipend annually, plus hourly wages. The motion was seconded by Buffington and passed by voters, 52-37.

Through the complaint, what we’re trying to prove with it is those two knew exactly what they were doing (at town meeting),” Smith said. “We firmly believe that Scott Buffington and Rick Little (are) union busting, because that’s what they’re doing.”

Buffington and Little said they’re honoring the will of voters.

The spirit of that meeting was very clear where the taxpayers — the townspeople — thought that cut should come from,” Buffington said.

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The next negotiating session is set for Monday, Sept. 18.

Meanwhile, Buffington said he sees the all-volunteer force and the negotiations as different issues.

“The transition back to a volunteer Fire Department, to me, is a separate thing from the union negotiations with our per-diem firefighters,” he said.

More than 10 applications for volunteers have been submitted, he said, calling it “hugely exciting.”

“You hear about the volunteer shortage in all of these towns, but we’ve been able to market where we’ve added several volunteer firefighters,” he said. “It is unfortunate a group like this is coming around to undo this hard work.”

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