Merger on the minds of Ossipee Corner voters



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BALLOTS WERE COUNTED by Carolyn Riley, Michelle Capone, Janice Tulley and Cindy Spencer during last week’s Ossipee Corner Fire Precinct annual meeting. The results: the bond vote for new fire station construction failed and Robert Short was elected commissioner.(Mellisa Ferland photo) (click for larger version)
March 24, 2011
OSSIPEE — At least one taxpayer here last week was ready to close the doors of Ossipee Corner Fire Department, but withheld making a motion that would bring a vote to force a merger with the other two Ossipee fire departments.

Ralph Buchanan said at the onset of the annual meeting that he intended to make that motion at the end of the meeting, but when the time came, he decided not to. If the vote did happen, it would have been advisory only and wouldn't have carried weight beyond a show of opinion since it was not on the warrant and properly noticed. Buchanan said he decided not to make the motion because by the end of the lengthy meeting, more than half the crowd had left.

It was clear that the record number of voters, 145, who turned out were coming to vote on one item, the proposed construction of a new fire station with its proposed $1.85 million bond. In fact, more voters crammed into the Ossipee Corner station to vote on this bond and the precinct's $412,935 budget than turned out at Ossipee Town Hall for town meeting March 9 to pass over $5 million in expenditures. There were 119 at that meeting.

The threat of a possible merger into a town-wide fire department and the poor economy were the chief concerns voiced against a new fire station for Ossipee Corner last week. As reported in last week's edition of this paper, a bond vote failed on a ballot vote of 56 yes vote and 89 no votes.

The town-commissioned report, referred to as the MRI report because it was prepared by Municipal Resources, Inc. recommends that a top priority is the construction of a new fire station for Ossipee Corner. It also recommends consolidation of the town's three fire precincts into one with a main fire station in the center of town with the substations at either end of town, run by one fire chief with deputies overseeing the substations. The report indicates that merging the department would bring a substantial cost savings to the taxpayers but gives no dollar amounts to back up that conclusion.

Some in attendance agreed that Ossipee Corner needs a new fire station but said they would rather wait and have the entire town pay for it instead of just Ossipee Corner Precinct taxpayers. Former Fire Chief Frank Riley spoke in favor of the town having one fire precinct and said the deficiencies commissioners have listed with the current station are "lukewarm." If a new station is considered later, he said, he would like to wait until consolidation issue is settled so "the cost is spread across the town."

Robert Short, who was elected to a three-year commissioner's seat during the meeting, ousting incumbent James Spencer in a vote of 73 to 65 said he has read the MRI report and it is flawed, but that the precinct just needs to keep up the current emergency services and make the best use of the current facilities for now.

Despite a motion by Bert Pendarvis to lower the fire chief's salary and make other cuts in the fire department portion of the budget, reducing the total from $244,500 to $190,000, voters who remained long enough to vote on the article passed the operating budget without amendment. Included in that is the chief's part-time salary of $45,000 and part-time firefighters/medical personnel who perform maintenance and other station duties as well as respond to emergency calls during the weekdays. Chief Adam Riley pointed out that in 2010, the department responded to 307 calls and of those, 102 occurred during the daytime coverage hours, making for quicker response during hours when other volunteer members may not be able to respond due to their job requirements.

The question of duplication of equipment and Ossipee having three paid fire chiefs were the constant in the discussion in support of the merger idea. It was noted that in January 2011, West Ossipee voters approved a $48,000 full-time salary for their fire chief with medical and retirement benefits and in 2010 Center Ossipee's part-time fire chief earned a base salary plus extra emergency callout pay to the tune of $48,000 with five weeks paid vacation. Chief Riley said he earns no benefits in addition to his salary.

Though the audience did not get into specifics of how to eliminate the perceived duplication of equipment, the MRI report does make suggestions. That report can be viewed in full at the town's Web site at www.ossipee.org or at the Ossipee Town Hall.

For now, the only movement on the selectmen's part concerning the merger is a mailer. Voters approved $5,000 at town meeting to send out a survey of Ossipee residents and taxpayers to gauge their opinion of whether the town should have one main fire department.

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