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Council ponders replacing fire truck

by Shawn Gainer

STAFF WRITER

CLARKSBURG -- Faced with a tight budget and a large repair bill for the fire department's ladder truck, city council members explored a plethora of options for dealing with the problem at a conference session Thursday night.

In the process of having repairs performed on the department's 1973 model aerial ladder truck, it was discovered the ladder would have to be replaced, which would increase costs from approximately $141,000 to $181,000. Moreover, in response to a question from Council Member Becky Lake, Capt. Joe Gonzalez of the fire department said all but one manufacturer of fire service parts for the truck has gone out of business.

When asked if it would be feasible for the city to work out an agreement with Bridgeport to use its ladder truck in event of need, Gonzalez and Fire Chief Rick Scott answered "no."

Gonzalez said that because of lengthened response time, the city's fire protection rating would suffer.

"The primary use for an aerial ladder is to rescue people from buildings two stories or higher," Scott said. "When you need a ladder truck nothing else will work...The first five minutes is critical."

Two other options were presented to council by the fire department and the city administration: purchase of a 1988 ladder truck from Sparks, Nev., for $256,500 or purchase of 1998 model truck, which has been used only as a demo, from a dealer in North Carolina for approximately $550,000.

City Finance Director Frank Ferrari said purchasing the 1988 truck would cost the city $15,000 a year in debt service over 10 years, as the city would have to borrow $110,000 over what it has already financed for repairs.

"On the newer truck, we might be able to stretch the loan out to 15 years and bring the debt service to an acceptable level," he said.

Council members Margaret Bailey, Becky Lake, Zeke Lopez and Mayor David Kates said they would rather purchase the used truck rather than rely on a mutual aid agreement with another fire department. The fire department currently has a truck on loan, though Gonzalez said it has problems including a fluid leak from its hydraulic pump.

After asking several questions about warranties on the trucks, Councilman Jim Hunt suggested in might be more cost effective to buy the 1998 model. Ferrari agreed to look into financing options to submit for consideration at a special meeting at 4 p.m. Monday.

Also, City Manager Tom Vidovich gave a report on budget adjustments intended to offset insurance expenses that have exceeded the city's budget for insurance by about $200,000. According to Ferrari and City Personnel Director Jimmy Marino, the costs come from claims that have carried over from the city's self-funded insurance program. Council has voted to switch from the self-funded program to the Public Employees Insurance Agency Municipal Pool, and the change became effective Sept. 1.

Vidovich said administrative budget adjustments included not filling the vacant economic development director position, cutting overtime in the code enforcement department to zero, and cutting overtime in the finance department by 50 percent. He also said he will seek council approval to remove approximately $54,000 from the city's capital reserve fund to help offset the insurance overruns.

"Some of these things can be done administratively, but eventually a lot of things will require budget amendments," Vidovich said.

City officials expect insurance costs to be less of a problem once the carry over claims from the self-funded program are paid. Ferrari said whether the city will have any money left over from this Fiscal Year, which ends July 1, 2001, depends on what happens between now and then.

"It will depend on whether we have a bad winter and how strong B&0 (Business and Occupation Tax) revenue is in the second half," he said. "When we get the carry-over claims paid, it will help a lot."

Staff Writer Shawn Gainer can be reached at 626-1442 or by e-mail at sgainer@exponent-telegram.com.

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