Plymouth Selectboard hears from the Fire Chief and discusses three Articles put to a vote

Plymouth Logo. Photo provided.

PLYMOUTH, Vt – On Monday Jan. 16, the Plymouth Selectboard held a special meeting to discuss three articles the town will vote on, on Tuesday Jan. 17: one for the $800,000 bond re-vote, one for the appointment of the town clerk, and one for the appointment of the town treasurer.

Selectboard member Rick Kaminski joked, “This is beginning to feel like Groundhog Day.” He recapped the bond issue and how the additional funding will allow the town to fully repair the town hall roof, upgrade some of the mechanical systems, and complete other improvements, including addressing safety updates. Kaminski said he planned to meet with the Fire Marshal to ensure they were making all necessary improvements.

Kaminski mentioned the opinion letters the three selectboard members had published in the Vermont Journal regarding the bond vote. Kaminski said he didn’t agree with Keith Cappellini’s suggestion to tear down the building and rebuild it from the ground up, and didn’t feel the approach was viable. Kaminski said he’d spoken with the fire and rescue departments, town listers, town staff, the historical society; everyone who would be affected, and, “not one person was in favor of the project.” He asked Cappellini, who was attending via Zoom, if he had anything to add.

“I look at it from a wide context of the interest of the town,” Cappellini offered, saying what he opposes is taking on the debt.

Jay Kullman, Board Chair reiterated that the tax burden on a home valued at $300,000 would be $85.74/year or $7.17/month.

The board gave an update on the roof repair thus far, saying the project was progressing slowly. Kullman acknowledged the repairs have been needed for more than ten years. Some felt it was a design flaw.

“Why do we need to have a flat roof?” asked Plymouth resident Bruce Pauley.

Kaminski replied, “I don’t know how to answer your question. I’m afraid the time has passed to discuss changing the design of the building.”

The two articles that address the appointment of a town clerk and town treasurer were brought up for discussion. Kullman said that the board is allowed to appoint someone to each of these positions, if the job is vacated. He felt that, in the interest of the town, the positions should always be filled by someone hired by the board, rather than elected by a popular vote. Kullman and the board agreed that this would offer a more stable employment picture, and allow the board to interview candidates with the required skills for each role.

Michelle Pingree, one of three town listers, pointed out the job has expanded so much in the seventeen years she’s been with the town. She felt that being able to hire someone for the long term, rather than be subjected to an election every two years would be extremely helpful. “It’s hard to get someone to run for the position when they could get voted out in two years,” Pingree said. “Rather than, if they’re doing a good job, they keep working.”

The board agreed, and Kullman said, “But we have to ask the voters for their approval on that, we can’t just make the change.”

Kullman mentioned they have been really lucky with staff and others chipping in to help Elaine Pauley, Assistant Town Clerk and Treasurer, but said it’s been tough and the town office is short-staffed.

The board addressed the stipulation that the jobs must be filled by a town resident. Resident Elliot Rubin, attending via Zoom, asked if there was any way to circumvent the rule. Could they find a way around that? Rubin suggested there might be a way for towns to share a town manager, which would involve changing a town charter.

Kullman thought that could be a possibility in the future.

The special meeting was adjourned, and Kullman called the regular selectboard meeting to order. He asked Fire Chief Kirk Turner and the fire department members who were in attendance to present their request to purchase a new pumper truck.

“This is our second or third meeting with you [regarding the truck acquisition],” Chief Turner said. “Our present fire truck has now turned 32 years old. If it breaks down, we would have no truck to respond to fires in this town. Our other truck is a tanker which just carries water. This truck is our only means of protecting our town, in terms of fire safety. We’ve been talking about this for a couple of years, so what’s the solution? [Without a pumper truck], either the fire department, or the selectboard would need to make some agreement with surrounding towns, like Ludlow or Bridgewater. Andover went to Ludlow recently to ask if they’d be interested in covering Andover, and they said no because they don’t have the manpower.”

Turner continued, “We are a volunteer fire department, and we’d love to have more people volunteer, but even if we had 30 volunteers that still doesn’t change the age of the truck. Five years on, we’ve formed a Truck Committee, who began talking to the selectboard starting about two years ago. We know the fire truck costs a lot of money, and we’ve been looking for a used truck for six or so months, but a four-wheel drive pumper is very hard to come by. The one we found was fifteen years old, in good condition, and was about $380,000 but it didn’t meet the height requirements because it was too tall.

“We looked into getting a grant from FEMA, and we had to hire someone that knew the grant process, because it’s a lot of paperwork. We hired someone, paid him, and got turned down for the grant. If we ordered a brand-new truck today it would be a minimum of two years down the road before we received it.

“The price of a new pumper truck would be about $429,000,” Turner said. “The fire department has about $100,000 in funds mostly from donations, so we need about $390,000 from the town.”

Kullman suggested establishing a reserve fund, saying, “There’s a discussion to be had about new versus used, that we don’t decide here tonight. But we can make a motion, establish the fund, let the voters vote on it. Have an article ready for March to set an amount for year one at least, and to figure out the impact on the tax rate.” Kullman said it was a great topic to discuss at the March town meeting.

Chief Turner mentioned the department would have other expenses in the future, including purchasing new “turnout gear,” (firefighters’ PPE). “$30,000 per year plus that much in donations and fundraisers is what funds the fire department. The turnout gear has a ten-year limit and costs between $3-4,000 per one person’s fire clothing.”

When asked about the state of other department vehicles, Turner replied, “Well, it’s hard to think about that when there’s such an immediate need with the pumper, but yes. They don’t get younger.”

Turner thanked the board for their time, saying, “Whatever you can do, we would be more than happy to help. We’ve kind of reached the end of our rope a little bit.”

Plymouth voters will decide on the three articles Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2023. The next selectboard meeting will be Monday, Feb. 6.

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