Flyers mailed to Paris residents by the Friends of Paris Firefighters are critical of Board of Selectmen Chairman Scott Buffington and Budget Committee Chairman Rick Little and their roles in advocating cutting the Fire Department budget.

PARIS — The Board of Selectmen has agreed to send a citizen petition to the town attorney to restore funding to the Fire Department to determine whether it is a so-called “ping-pong petition.”

The board voted 4-1 Monday to send to the town attorney Budget Committee member Richard Merz’s petition to restore the $145,629 cut from the Fire Department’s budget at town meeting in June. Voting for the measure were Chairman Scott Buffington, Randy Brackett, John Andrews and Gary Vaughn. Voting against was Vice Chairman Chris Summers.

Merz handed in his petition with 275 signatures — 245 of which were valid — at a selectmen meeting Aug. 14.

“When I read this, there is really nothing new from what we voted on on June 17,” Buffington said. “I also can’t discount Mr. Merz went around to gather 275 signatures.”

Buffington referred to a Maine Municipal Association document that refers to the 1990 court case of Inhabitants of the Town of Vassalboro v. Frederick & Camille Denico.

The back of a flyer, copies of which were sent to Paris residents by the Friends of Paris Firefighters, advocates support for firefighters. 

It reads, “The significance of the decision is that it appears to be the first by any Maine court of record to suggest that municipal officers need not permit the ‘ping-ponging’ of referendum issues back and forth by a minority faction of dissatisfied voters. The municipal officers, it appears, can reasonably conclude that the first valid vote on an issue will be the only vote on the issue.”

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“If you are interested in ignoring this (petition), which is part of the democratic process, is it the same as saying Mr. Little can’t make his motion at town meeting?” Summers asked. “There are 245 names that have signed that petition. Unless I missed my point (this) is almost five times the number of the people who voted to eliminate $145,000.”

On a motion by Budget Committee Chairman Rick Little, the town meeting vote to cut the Fire Department budget was 52-37.

Merz said the petition was not to rescind the June town meeting vote but to give people proper notice to discuss changing the town’s fire service.

“The people weren’t warned,” he said. “They weren’t informed that the Fire Department was going to be fundamentally changed. It wasn’t in the warrant. I am saying you have a responsibility, you have an obligation, to keep the citizens of Paris informed.”

Merz added, “If you get rid of the per-diems, you get rid of the damn union.”

In November 2016, 17 per-diem firefighters voted to form a union after selectmen pledged to cut $500,000 from the fiscal 2016 budget.

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Buffington noted legal fees are “insane” with all of the union negotiations and normally he would be the first to save money, but he was willing to spend it for the town’s attorney to weigh in on a petition, which is part of the democratic process.

“I don’t think the attorney’s going to be able to give you a ruling to say it’s a ping-pong (petition) or not,” Town Manager Vic Hodgkins said. “You guys make the determination. We can go through that exercise, but I think it’s going to be money not well-spent.”

“I think it’s important we check into this,” Buffington replied.

Selectmen have 60 days from when the petition was validated to act on it, which is Friday, Oct. 13, according to Town Clerk Liz Knox.

Even though union negotiations are ongoing with Teamsters Local 340, the town is moving toward a volunteer model because funding for the per-diem program will run out  Oct. 1.

Flyers

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Selectmen also approved a motion made by Buffington to have Hodgkins investigate whether taxpayer money was used in creating, printing or distributing a controversial flyer criticizing Buffington and Little, along with drafting language to post on the town’s website to say the document is inaccurate.

The flyers went out to Paris residents last week and Lorne Smith of Teamsters Local 340, who is negotiating on behalf of the per-diems, said the Teamsters had money in the flyer, which represented the Friends of Paris Firefighters.

Deputy Fire Chief Jon Longley said after Monday’s meeting the flyer inaccurately stated that the town’s ISO rating could increase if the per-diems were nixed. In 2004, when the department was still an all-volunteer program, Paris received a good ISO rating of 4.

Insurance Service Office ratings determine risk on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being the best.

The town recently went through another ISO rating process and Longley expects possibly even better results.

“Our numbers surpassed that of 2004,” he said. “We are going to keep that same rating or go up a click. There is no way that we can’t stay the same or improve.”

According to Longley, the ISO rating was done with all volunteers. None of the per-diems showed up, he said.

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