Purchasing new vehicles has become one of the most discussed budgetary items at the Board of Selectmen deliberations as department representatives make their case for why their aging maintenance vehicles, police cruisers and fire department pickup trucks need replacing.
All of the purchases cannot be made, according to the selectmen, though they wrestled with ways to afford as many of them as possible during Monday's meeting at the .
The one request that garnered the most discussion during the meeting was one from fire officials for three vehicles – one to replace the fire marshal's 6-year-old Ford Expedition with 74,000 miles and the other two would be for new trucks to be used by Hawleyville and Dodgingtown fire officers.
First Selectman Pat Llodra, who said she lacked information about why the vehicles were needed, initially denied the request. After talking with the fire marshal, she said she had come to understand the Expedition was used frequently, idled at fire scenes and becoming more expensive to maintain.
The other two vehicle requests were more difficult to understand particularly because this was the first year the Board of Fire Commissioners had put in the request.
"I need to see some evidence that we have some real reason to pass this cost to taxpayers," Llodra said.
Apparently, Dodgingtown and Hawleyville fire officials have been requesting the trucks for several years, though they have been perennially denied by the fire commissioners, officials said. This year, with the high volume of calls from Tropical Storm Irene and the October snow storm, the need for the vehicles become more apparent, fire commissioner Michael Burton said.
That was because many of the calls for service from that storms were minor in nature – such as for a basement pump-out or for medical issues when firefighters become the backup for the ambulance – but because there were no other vehicles available, firefighters had to pull their large trucks out of the station and put them into service. The use of that expensive equipment for a relatively minor call was what fire officials said convinced them the need for a so-called command or first-responder vehicle for Hawleyville and Dodingtown.
"It did show in that situation a need where the vehicle could benefit the town and hopefully keep the frontline pumper in the firehouse for a little longer," Burton said. "We felt they had made their case and it was time to move forward."
Sandy Hook and Hook and Ladder fire companies already have use of such town-owned trucks while Botsford raised its own private funds to buy such a vehicle few years ago.
The need for the two command vehicles totaled $58,000, and in exchange for putting the request in the budget proposal, Hawleyville and Dodgingtown fire companies agreed to have the money for its other equipment requests, such as for turnout coats and other gear, reduced. They also agreed to shoulder more of the insurance costs, although Llodra added back the insurance amounts after removing the vehicle request.
Attending the selectmen meeting Monday, Dodgingtown Fire Chief Mark White and Hawleyville Fire Chief Joe Farrell made their pitch for the vehicles with White saying the command vehicle would replacing an aging 1994 Suburban with 168,000 miles that members privately bought and have been maintaining.
But with brake and many other issues, members have had limited use of the vehicle, and instead drive their own personal cars or take out the large fire truck, according to White. Last year during the tropical storm and October snow, the fire truck suffered $6,000 worth of damage responding to calls regarding downed wires and other situations, White said. Rather than risk that type of damage in the future, the fire company was asking for a so-called command vehicle to replace the Suburban for use in such calls.
Hawleyville, in contrast, doesn't have any such vehicle, and as a result has been taking out its fire truck, according to Fire Chief Joe Farrell who requested what he called a first responder vehicle, which would be big enough to carry a defibrillator and other gear, and come in handy when responding to medical calls. Firefighters are backups to the ambulance crew, who, due to the volume of medical incidents in town, often come after the fire crews, Farrell said.
The fire companies weren't the only ones needing vheicle replacements. The police department also put in a request for three cruisers and an administrative vehicle, though Llodra and the selectmen approved funds to replace only three of the vehicles, saying the town was committed to replacing only three in one year.
In addition, under the purview of the public works director is a request for a $107,000 new car pool account, which was pulled by Llodra with a recommendation the town put aside $25,000 in a capital nonrecurring account – described as a savings account for future expenses – in order to fund a car pool replacement program in the future.
However, due to the condition of one of the building maintenace van – a 1996 Ford with 237,700 miles – Llodra said she would recommend that vehicle and perhaps one of the fire command vehicles be considered a priority should the town find savings at the end of this fiscal year.
Town officials believe there may be money left in the budget at the end of this fiscal year if bond refunding estimates prove accurate and other savings come through, according to First Selectman Pat Llodra.
Right now however, it's unclear how much leftover money there actually will be, with Finance Director Bob Tait saying by next month, the town should have a more precise handle of its bonding situation and better estimates of its year-end expenses.
Also, the town possibly may be able to find enough savings for the three fire vehicles, particularly if officials buy a replacement for the fire marshal's truck, and rather than trading that vehicle in assigning it to one of the volunteer fire companies for use as a command vehicle.
In the end, the selectmen proposed making no changes to the budget proposal – meaning approving the three police vehicles but leaving out the requests by the fire company and building maintenance van – with a recommendation to reconsider the vehicles later in the budget process when more year-end budget information is available.
That also would give the fire commissioners more time to discuss and return with more information on which of their three vehicle requests is the priority.
Correction: Dodgingtown Fire Chief Mark White's first name was incorrect in an earlier version of this article.