As a member of the city council’s Public Safety Committee, Commissioner Jon Cawley supports the Mount Airy Fire Department and Chief Zane Poindexter — but is not a fan of buying a new fire truck.
The vehicle with a $400,000 price tag is among $2.8 million in general fund capital needs presented by heads of departments such as police, fire, parks and recreation and others. These cover a wide range of facilities and equipment, including upgrades to HVAC systems in buildings, a new telecommunications system for city government, new copiers and various vehicles, among other items.
After receiving the list last week, which reflects some purchases that have been delayed in previous budget years, board of commissioners members expressed a willingness to dip into municipal savings in response. This would allow some of the more-pressing capital projects to be funded as well as fulfill a commitment by the board to systematically reduce property taxes.
And though two fire trucks are deemed as needed by Chief Poindexter, one he’d like to add in the 2013-2014 fiscal year and the second in a later year, Commissioner Jon Cawley doesn’t agree.
“I cannot support buying a new fire truck,” Cawley said of consideration for the proposed acquisition in the next fiscal year that begins on July 1.
As one of two commissioners serving on the board’s Public Safety Committee that works closely with the fire and police departments, Cawley said, “I’m all for the fire department” and supportive of Chief Poindexter.
But he suggested that the fire truck purchase is not a priority, pointing out that the department answers only about a dozen fire calls a year, which are among other duties including responding to medical emergencies. (In 2012, the department actually responded to 14 incidents classified as “building fires,” according to its most recent annual report.)
Poindexter told the commissioners that the two fire trucks he wants to replace are posing constant maintenance issues, and fears they might break down during calls.
Cawley suggested that the department has other trucks it can press into service until the replacements occur. “Maybe we can get something less expensive to run some of their calls with,” he said. “I can’t support buying a new fire truck.”
In the past when the city was planning to replace an aging aerial truck, a grant was applied for unsuccessfully from the Federal Emergency Management Agency which would have supplied much of its cost. The fire chief said Thursday afternoon that the latest replacement plans are in the early stages and he does not know if grant funding will be sought for them.
Poindexter added that the new vehicle(s) could be acquired under a group-purchasing arrangement, the Houston-Galveston Area Council (H-GAC) based in Texas. This allowed the aerial, or ladder, truck to be obtained at a discount price in 2011.
It cost $759,000, but the slightly used vehicle had an original list price of $1 million, and the group-purchase arrangement allowed a bid process to be circumvented, thus saving the city more than $90,000.
Reach Tom Joyce at 719-1924 or email@example.com.