Londonderry questions, then approves Champion fire truck

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2015 Telegraph Publishing, LLC

The crowd of more than 100 voters who filled the first floor of the old Town Hall in South Londonderry for Town Meeting were joined in the balcony by about 30 7th and 8th grade observers from Flood Brook School. The largest and most contentious article – the purchase of a new fire truck for the Champion Fire Co. No. 5 – took up a significant portion of the meeting with sometimes heated discussion, but in the end the truck passed with nearly a two to one margin.

Londonderry's annual Town Meeting getting underway at the told Town Hall.

Fire fighters turned out in force as Londonderry’s annual Town Meeting got under way at the told Town Hall. All photos by Shawn Cunningham. Click any photo to launch gallery.

Moderator Wendall Coleman brought the meeting to order and began to move the meeting through the agenda. Anyone watching the election of officers might have expected the fire truck issue to go down in flames as Matt Mosher, the Champion Co.’s spokesman, was nominated twice for a seat on the Select Board and twice defeated, first by Wayne Blanchard (49-48), then by Jim Ameden (71-43).

When the election of officers was done, the meeting turned its attention to the fire truck. Speaking for the Select Board, member Paul Gordon acknowledged the unselfish service of the town’s fire fighters and thanked the committee that researched a new truck and selected the manufacturer. Gordon told the crowd that the article was written based on legal advice and that the board was not taking a position on the issue, feeling that it was best to ask the opinion of the electorate.

John Barry pointed out that Londonderry buying and owning fire equipment was a major change, and wondered whether this was a “want” or a “need” in a year with a 12.5 percent budget increase.

7th and 8th graders from Flood Brook School followed the proceedings from the balcony.

7th and 8th graders from Flood Brook School followed the proceedings from the balcony.

Mosher contended that this was a need, pointing to a 20-year-old engine and characterizing the purchase as a life safety issue for both the town and for firefighters saying that it was necessary for the continued fire protection of the town.

Select Board chair Jim Ameden rose to say that he was speaking only for himself, as a firefighter for 30 years. Ameden said this is the largest capital investment the town has ever made, that the town had no input into the truck and that the town would turn the truck over to a private company. That said, Ameden called the truck, as specified, “extravagant.” Ameden told the crowd that a standard “cookie cutter” truck that could do the same work could be purchase for $300,000.

Mosher disagreed with Ameden, saying the the town could always spec cheaper equipment, but that this is a 20- to 30-year investment in fire protection. “What you get for fire service is a really good deal,” said Mosher. “We didn’t spend the last two years working on this truck because it was fun to hang out at the fire station. We did it to fit the needs of the town.”

Voting one of the three paper ballots conducted during the meeting.

Voting one of the three paper ballots conducted during the meeting.

Many of the questions posed in the discussion centered on ways to structure the purchase of the fire truck so the town would not own it. In the final analysis, if a town buys something, it had to own it, and the town cannot bind voters in the future to a payment.”

Mosher underscored the need by saying that in two or three years, “we’ll have to ask ourselves if we will be in service at all.”

After more discussion, the meeting voted 71 to 36 to buy the truck. “Enjoy your taxes,” said one opponent pushing open the door onto Middletown Road.

The remainder of the meeting was calm with articles funding the fire companies, conservation fund, park,  medical center, library, highway equipment fund and annual appropriations for several social, cultural and medical organizations passing unanimously. The “sum of money” to be raised for the Londonderry Volunteer Rescue Squad mentioned in Article 11 was set at $6,000 and passed unanimously.

While vote counting in a select board race went on behind him, board member Paul Gordon urged residents to check out the town's updated website.

While vote counting in a select board race went on behind him, board member Paul Gordon urged residents to check out the town’s updated website.

The general fund appropriation of $1,571,707 also passed without objection. In fact, the only article that did not gain the voters’ approval was a request for $5,300 from Southeastern Vermont Economic Development Strategies, which was defeated “overwhelmingly.” The organization has as its mission the reversal of the economic decline of the Windham region. It was a rough day for SeVEDS with its article going down to defeat in Grafton as well.

In the voting for officers, Wendall Coleman was chosen as moderator (one year), Tina Lebeau as treasurer (three years), Wayne Blanchard and Jim Ameden to the Select Board (two and three years), Debbie O’Leary as lister (three years), Roger Sheehan as first constable and Nick Doane as second constable (both one-year terms), Joan Dayton as delinquent tax collector (one year), Peter Pagnucco as grand juror (one-year), Wendall Coleman as town agent (one year), Gary Barton as cemetery commissioner (five years), Pauline Davison as Trustee of Public Funds (three years), Brandy Hill as Trustee of Memorial Park (five years) and Margot Wright as Library Trustee, (three years).

Setting up a staggered election schedule for the Parks Board, Susie Wyman was elected for one year, Wendy Arace for two, Colleen Gometz for three, Pamela Ameden for four and Kelly Pajala for five.

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