Smithville aldermen have penciled in more spending in the proposed new budget and plan to set aside $400,000 from the general fund surplus to go toward the purchase of a ladder truck for the city volunteer fire department.
None of the proposed new expenditures would require an increase in the city property tax rate but it would reduce the size of the general fund surplus and that is something that Mayor Taft Hendrixson is not happy about.
The mayor and aldermen met in a workshop session Tuesday evening to review the proposed budget for the 2010-11 fiscal year which has not yet been adopted and to consider budget requests from department heads.
Fire Chief Charlie Parker, among other requests, renewed his appeal for a ladder truck, something members of the fire department have long wanted and say the city needs. Parker says the department would like to have a new ladder truck, but that could cost as much as $900,000 so, he says, if the city could find a good used truck, that would be okay too.
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Alderman Steve White, who proposed putting aside the $400,000 for the truck, said while the general fund surplus would be impacted, it would by no means be depleted. "It's not like we're spending all of our reserve. We will still have, I think somewhere in the neighborhood of $2.8 or $2.9 million in the general fund (surplus) after everything comes out that should be in this budget. The main thing is the safety of our residents and our firefighters and the protection of their properties."
White adds that he is convinced the city needs a ladder truck. "I feel like that we've really needed the ladder truck for quite a few years. The Moog disaster is one big example in my opinion. The City of Smithville and DeKalb County lost a factory with probably 250 employees and on the other side of it is safety. The ladder truck is going to pump a lot more water and the firefighters will be able to put the water where it definitely needs to be. Of course time is of essence in a fire and getting the water where it needs to be and as much water as possible is the big thing there."
" It ($400,000) won't buy a new truck and it may not buy a real good used truck but I think that with Charlie and with Wink, one of the firefighters that we have, I think that they should be able to find a real good used truck that's still in good shape that would still last us for probably twelve or fifteen years down the road. If things change and we can't find one, then we can let that (fund) grow and then go from there. I think that the market right now, especially with times being tough, that there will be some good deals out there and we will be able to find a real good truck for that."
Aaron Meeks, alderman and police and fire commissioner, says he too supports the proposal to set aside funds for a ladder truck. "It's something they have had on their wish list, I guess for some period of time. It is more or less a set aside (fund) toward the purchase of a vehicle. If a good used vehicle for that price could be found, then we could proceed with purchasing it. This is a procedure we have used in the past. It is the procedure we used to build the new fire hall. It is something that, relying upon our fire chief, is needed and I think he is a very reliable person. I know a lot of people say we don't have enough three story buildings. But you have most all of the downtown stores and businesses that our fire department cannot reach with the equipment that they currently have and if a major fire broke out in the downtown area we could lose a whole city block or more without equipment to fight it. Of course we all remember the problem at Moog without the proper equipment to fight that (fire) so we also have the factories that should be taken into consideration when we think about a ladder truck."
Some may brand these aldermen as "big spenders" by making such a proposal, but Alderman Meeks says he doesn't see it that way. "The four other members and myself on that board, I would consider very conservative when it comes to spending money. But when there are needs that may have been delayed and postponed and that we recognize these are legitimate needs of the community, I think all of us step up and address that and we certainly are not big spenders, I think our records will indicate that's the case. But there comes a time when you can postpone and postpone and postpone and sometimes that costs you twice as much as it would have cost you had you done it in a timely fashion."
Fire Chief Parker says a ladder truck would aid the department in fighting fires at two and three story buildings, and help in maintaining and possibly improving the city's ISO insurance rating. "In the ISO grading system a couple of years ago, they looked at our city, the buildings, the way we answer calls, the hydrant system, they analyzed all of that and this ISO is what all the citizens of Smithville's insurance rating is based on inevitably. The lower the ISO or insurance rating, the cheaper your insurance is going to be. So we really try to cater to this ISO rating."
"One of their recommendations was for us to have a ladder truck. It will help give us some points to lower our rating. Of course, the first thing everybody starts to say, when they think about a ladder truck, is that we don't have but one three story building so why do we need a ladder truck? It is for reaching up to second and third floor buildings and structures. What a lot of people don't think about is the downtown area where we have the Bicentennial building, which is a three story on the front and a four story in the back. But there's no way we could get to it at all if it was on fire. We barely could ladder the courthouse. The Studio Six fire we had downtown, we had to call Smithville Electric (for a bucket truck) before we could get on top of that building. That's only a two story building but the way the facades are around the building, and where Garrett Insurance is located, there's no way we could get on top of those buildings. If we get a fire in those buildings or on the roof of them, there's not a thing we can do about it. It's pretty much going to go, the whole city block. We've been lucky. We've had a couple of fires in the downtown district before. They (buildings) are very unstable about trying to put ground ladders on, even those low to the ground. The fire walls in them are very shaky and it's very, very risky for firefighters to be on a ladder through there so they need a device where they wouldn't have to be on the building or against the building in case it fell."
"McMinnville purchased a ladder truck a few years ago and two years ago they had a fire in their downtown district. One of their captains was quoted that if they had not had that ladder truck at the time of the fire in McMinnville they would have lost a whole city block. They credit saving the block to having that ladder truck on site with early detection and they got in there and made a really good stop at it. He said if they hadn't had that aerial device they wouldn't have been able to stop it."
"Ladder trucks, probably half of their use is on one and two story structures anyway. When you look at other fire departments around the country, they use them on single story dwellings, getting up in the roof and attic area so they can do that safely. They don't have to be on the building or on the roof where you could have a collapse and the firefighter goes through. They use them on one and two story buildings all the time. So it's not just for three story buildings. We do have several buildings that are classified as three story because the way ISO grades them is where the eave height would be even thirty feet. So some of these buildings, when you get thirty feet up to try to get a ladder on top of them it's pretty dangerous. There's a good part of it that's firefighter safety too".
"Another aspect is the fire flow that's needed for the factories we have. That's part of the ISO equation. When they look at how much water we can actually flow to a big fire like we had at Moog. A ladder truck typically has a bigger pump. It can flow more water and that actually helps our flow rating for some of these bigger factories, big structures, and cabinet shops. The amount of materials they have in them that will burn and combust takes a certain amount of water flow and right now we're not even coming close to meeting some of those if we had a full out fire. So this helps to meet some of the water flow."
"This is not a vehicle we're going to use every day. It's a secondary or standby vehicle. We'll use it when we have bigger structure fires. We know and understand it's not going to be one that's used day in and day out. But it is one of those pieces of equipment that when you need it, you need it now and you really don't have time to wait. Time is of the essence in the fire business. We need to be there quick."
Chief Parker adds that if the city can't afford a new ladder truck, he believes $400,000 would be enough to buy a good used truck. "We've been looking at ladder trucks for the last several years. We've watched the prices rise from $600,000 to $700,000, to $800,000 and with all the new safety things that go on them, emission controls, and more, it just keeps going up. We would love to have a new truck, but we know it's not something that's going to be used all the time. Larger departments often trade them in for newer models so we can get one (used) that would still serve us perfectly fine in that price range ($400,000)."
The aldermen penciled in another $13,000 to the fire department budget, not as an increase per fire call, but to supplement firefighters for work, such as testing hoses and hydrants, etc.
$20,000 will be included as a capital outlay expense for an air compressor to support the firefighters breathing packs
The department will be budgeted a $4,000 uniform allowance
Plans are also to purchase a vehicle, possibly a pickup truck as a capital outlay expense, to transport firefighters to training or to run errands for the department so that they don't have to use the other emergency vehicles or their own automobiles.
The mayor and aldermen may consider first reading passage of the new budget Monday night, July 19th at 7:00 p.m. at city hall.