PARIS — Selectmen voted to further look into emergency services billing in town for the Fire Department as a way to offset operating costs by having Vice Chairman Scott Buffington contact local state officials on the issue.
At the Monday, Jan. 23 Paris selectmen meeting, Buffington spoke on the idea he has championed since he was elected to the board. He noted former Interim Town Manager Bill Guindon – who was a longtime member of the fire service – guided the conversation last year and didn’t leave much room for the board to further explore the issue.
“Our Fire Department is no longer just a fire department. These guys no longer just respond to structure fires,” Buffington said. “We’ve had a very good stretch of no structure fires in the town of Paris.”
He recent calls to the department include responding to EMS calls, car accidents and assisting other agencies through mutual aid.
“I think the paradigm of firefighting and the fire service has changed … a lot over the years,” Buffington said. “I also think we have to collaboratively pave some new roads [and to] not be reactive all the time to increasing budgets to provide these services. But we also have to very seriously try to find ways to generate some revenue for some of the things that they do.”
His first proposal was to charge a fee for all Fire Department-related calls, including fires, EMS responses and accidents. Buffington said he’s willing to nix fees for fire-related calls and look to charge for services specifically regarding accidents. This could allow the town to charge insurance companies for clean ups and extrication from vehicles. He noted he doesn’t not want to use the fees to make a profit.
“The cost of providing that fire service is just growing and growing and growing and you have to come up with a way to offset that without always putting it on the taxpayer,” Buffington said.
He added his updated commercial insurance policy for one of his businesses, Crazy 8’s, included coverage for municipal fire service in his policy, something he did not ask for.
“You have a national company who has this in their policy because they’re getting billed for it in other places so now it’s factored into my premium,” Buffington said. “Bill Guindon … said insurance companies couldn’t do that – it would affect our ISO rating. He said it affected all these things that I found weren’t actually all that accurate.”
Buffington agreed to share a copy of his insurance policy with the rest of selectmen.
He noted a viable question that has been raised asks even if the town bills for such services, what recourse is there to receive payment? He said that question should be answered at the state level and agreed to reach out to state Rep. Lloyd “Skip” Herrick and Sen. Jim Hamper.
“I think part of the insurance billing happens at the state level,” Buffington said. “I know the insurance lobbyists are a very powerful lobbying group up there [in Augusta].”
Selectman Chris Summers asked about obtaining information on the subject from Maine Municipal Association and other communities that bill for these services.
“I can check,” said Town Manager Vic Hodgkins. “I can say that … where this isn’t real established territory that probably this information is going to probably come in helter skelter, haphazard at best.”
In a similar vein, Selectmen Chair Janet Jamison brought up the issue of Payment In Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) properties in town, which don’t pay taxes – including nonprofits such as churches and the county courthouse complex on Western Avenue.
“How would people in the nonprofit world respond to a contribution?” asked Selectman Kathy Richardson about helping offset Fire Department operating costs. “I don’t think we should say they wouldn’t do it. I think we need to make it palatable.”
She worried sending letters to such organizations would upset people. Selectman Rusty Brackett – who has served as treasurer of his church for 20-plus years – disagreed.
“If I were to receive a letter, it is something I never would have thought about,” he said about his church not paying taxes and the fairness of expecting other taxpayers to contribute but not nonprofits. “A letter would not offend me.”
Jamison said the town should tell PILOT properties, “Look, we’re trying to come up with some creative ideas to help keep everybody’s taxes level.”
“I see it more of a carrot and stick thing rather than a baseball bat,” she added about the town’s approach on the subject.
While no action was taken on crafting a letter, Richardson agreed to ask Assessor Jerry Samson for a list of all tax-exempt properties in town.
In other news, selectmen:
- voted to keep the town’s Unsigned Fund Balance Policy as is with a few language changes, including selectmen must go to town meeting to spend surplus monies.
- tentatively set annual town meeting for the morning of Saturday, June 17, at the Fire Station, but will explore the possibility of a different date and time and holding it at the new community center – the former Deering Memorial United Methodist Church.
- accepted Lisa Palmer’s resignation from the Budget Committee, as she was not able to serve again because of work commitments. Hodgkins announced the Budget Committee has one full member and two alternative openings and the 1 Paris Hill Committee needs one more member.
- learned Samson will now work from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday and 8 a.m. to noon Wednesday.