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New Milford considers adding back $25,000 for fire vehicles

December 14, 2018

NEW MILFORD — The three fire chiefs are requesting the $25,000 cut during the budget process be reinstated so that they don’t fall too far behind in replacing their vehicles.

Members of Town Council questioned if now was the appropriate time to add this money back though and suggested the chiefs come back with the request for the next budget. The issue was postponed until the next council meeting when there will be a better idea of where the money could come from this cycle.

Councilman Michael Nahom said adding the funding sets a bad precedent and they should continue with the budget that was passed.

“Every department would love to have another $20,000 in their budget right now and that’s where I have the problem,” he said. “I don’t disagree with any of the needs, but it seems like a discussion we should be having in February.”

The chiefs said the decision needs to be made before their January meeting because it will affect the capital replacement plan for the apparatus and they will have to revise it if the amount changes.

Water Witch Hose Company Chief James Ferlow said that without the $25,000, the departments will hit a deficit in two years. That deficit doesn’t hit for 10 or 11 years if the money is reinstated.

“That is a concern we have,” he said. “We will have to completely revamp our budget system because we will potentially be in the red significantly sooner, even though it’s only $25,000. We keep a very tight budget.”

The fire apparatus capital account was formed after a fire in 1979 to ensure the departments were equipped to handle any fire. It was established in 1983 with an annual contribution of $150,000 from the town until a few years ago when that amount increased to $250,000 to better reflect the rising costs of fire vehicles.

The money in the account is distributed among the three departments based on a long-term replacement and maintenance plan the departments’ officers create together. These purchases are supplemented by grants and donations.

This past budget cycle, $50,000 was initially proposed to be cut from that account, but $25,000 was ultimately added back in and approved by voters. This brought this year’s total contribution to $225,000.

Gaylordsville’s Tanker 44 is the next vehicle expected to be replaced and is scheduled for the next fiscal year. Other vehicles include a rescue vehicle, Water Witch’s brush truck, Northville’s tanker and engines at all three departments.

The engines last 25 years and the tankers and rescue trucks generally last 30 years, while brush trucks can be in service a few years longer than that.

“We’re trying to get more life out of our tankers because we buy good tankers and therefore we can get 25 to 30 years out of them,” Northville Chief Alan Harris said.

It may look like the vehicles are being replaced before these benchmarks, but Gaylordsville Chief Dave Williamson said it takes about two years for the vehicles to be built so they’re actually being retired at those ages.

“The older something gets, the more chance there is something will break,” he said.

The chiefs said all of the vehicles are inspected and maintained regularly but it’s important to replace the vehicles with newer, safer models.

New Milford’s trucks are sold to southern states where they can’t afford new vehicles and other countries where there aren’t standards.

Councilman Tom Esposito said he knows the fire departments are doing a great job with old equipment and said they need safe equipment for the departments and public.

“My only question and my only reservation now is where the money comes from in the middle of a budget cycle,” Esposito said. “It’s not doubting your expertise or what you do.”

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