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Vergennes boosts fire spending

VERGENNES — Spending on the Vergennes Fire Department will rise by about $15,000 next year as higher bond payments kick in for equipment purchases made five years ago.
Vergennes is also looking at bonding for another fire truck in the next year or two.
At its May 10 meeting, the Vergennes City Council approved a $156,327 fire department budget for the 2016-2017 fiscal year that begins on July 1. That decision increases spending from the current level of $141,191.
Paying for the Vergennes Fire Department budget is shared among the city, Ferrisburgh, Panton and Waltham, based on the assessed value of property for which the department covers as the first responder.
The Ferrisburgh and Vergennes departments share responsibility for Ferrisburgh. City Manager Mel Hawley is waiting on assessment information from that town to determine exactly how the cost will be divided among the towns, although on Wednesday he said he has some idea.
“It appears that Waltham is going to go down some, Panton is going to go up some, and Vergennes and Ferrisburgh are going to go up,” said Hawley, who said those towns will also share in a $15,000 year-end fund balance.
Hawley said the increase is entirely driven by a change in a 15-year, $400,000 bond that funded the city’s 2010 purchase of a heavy rescue truck and a ladder truck.
Vergennes made five years of $15,000 interest-only payments that concluded this past December, but this year’s payment will also include $40,000 of principal as well as interest.
In 2015, the city also finished paying off a 20-year note for its front-line pumper fire-fighting truck and its pumper tanker, but the net in the budget is still an increase for the coming year even though Hawley and Vergennes Fire Chief Jim Breur made cuts elsewhere in the budget.
“Jim Breur and I went in and looked at each and every line item to see if there were any potential cuts in some of the areas, and we were able to find roughly $10,000,” Hawley said.
Those cuts included moving wages for mutual aid calls back down from $8,000 to $6,000, where they stood a year ago; taking $2,000 apiece from firefighting gear and vehicle maintenance; and moving “hoses/nozzles/adaptors” from $4,000 to $3,000.
As for the city department’s next big purchase, Hawley said it relates back to that 1995 bond.
“I feel like it was just yesterday we bought the front-line pumper and the pumper tanker,” Hawley said. “But it’s been 21 years for those trucks. To have a front-line pumper that’s over 20 years old, that’s not an optimal situation.”
Hawley said Breur estimates a new pumper will cost about $500,000, and the city’s old pumper should be worth $80,000 in trade.
Hawley said the department also has about $20,000 set aside for a down payment, meaning Vergennes is looking at another bond somewhere near $400,000 (“That’s rough,” he said), with a vote probably at town meeting either in 2017 or 2018.
By the time payments start on the next bond, Hawley said Vergennes should be looking at only seven more years or so of payments on 2005’s $400,000 fire bond.

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