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Two Hill fire department vehicles deemed old; not budget committee, though

Hill’s fire department is replacing two outdated vehicles with one new one, while the budget committee, voters decided at last night’s town meeting, still has some value and will live to see another year.

Those were the lone articles decided by ballot vote during a small and quick meeting that saw just seven articles in all.

Overall, the town approved its $931,391 operating budget, with the most money, $305,538, earmarked for the highways and streets.

Separate from those expenditures, residents said the $180,000 sought for a mini pumper rescue vehicle, with $75,000 coming from the fire heavy equipment capital reserve fund, is money well spent, since the department’s one rescue vehicle and one of its three engines are ready for retirement.

Two-thirds of the 56 attendees – 38 votes – were needed to approve the article, and that’s exactly the number of residents who thought it was a good idea. Gone at the end of this month is the 1989 fire engine, its water tank too rusted to serve the town any longer.

And the 1995 rescue truck, with its rusted doors and fenders and leaking transmission, won’t be too far behind on its way out to pasture.

In its place, the 12-person, all-volunteer fire department, led by Chief DeeAnna Ford, will have something capable of doing the work of both aging vehicles, meaning fire safety and medical assistance.

The front end will resemble a pickup truck, Ford described during the two-article voting break, and the chassis will hold water while also featuring compartment space for tools, a pump, a foam tank and a backboard.

In addition, the mini pumper can be driven by those with a regular license, as opposed to the huge engine, which requires a commercial license to operate. That will allow any of the volunteers to rush to an emergency without having to wait for a qualified driver, saving time and perhaps lives, fire officials pointed out.

“This will benefit everyone in the department,” John Lynch of the board of selectmen said. “Looking to the future, this vehicle will be the most active vehicle we have in the department.”

Not everyone was sure that this was money well spent, including Shaun Bresnahan of the budget committee, who said, “It would be nice to know how many times a truck we’re spending $180,000 on will be used.”

The other ballot vote, created to eliminate the budget committee, needed a simple majority to pass but failed, 42-14, saving a committee some thought had become an obsolete institution.

“We have a considerable lack of participation,” said Selectman Mike Brady. “There’s almost no one volunteering for the planning board, and the efforts of the budget committee, while good, duplicate what the selectmen already do.”

Bresnahan, though, cited the committee as an important watchdog, saying, “I’ve heard reasons to reduce it, but I haven’t heard reasons to eliminate it. Part of tradition is to watch over what the selectmen do. Checks and balances are what make our government function. If we don’t have the numbers, let’s live with the numbers we have.”

To which Brady countered, “The people who control the budget are the people of Hill. That does not require a budget committee.”

In other business, voters chose to spend $11,000 to replace the highway department roof, with $6,000 coming from the building improvement capital reserve fund and $5,000 coming from taxation.

During the voting break to address the fire vehicle and budget committee issues, Moderator Gerard Desrochers mentioned an idea that had been brought to his attention to replace the compact annual report booklets with 8½-by-11-inch sheets of paper.

“It’s tradition,” Brady answered. “Some people might collect them and have them on their bookshelf, and it’s nice to have them all the same size.”

(Ray Duckler can be reached at 369-3304 or or on Twitter @rayduckler.)

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