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Vergennes will vote on $500,000 for a new fire truck

VERGENNES — Vergennes residents in March will be asked to support a $500,000 bond to buy a new fire truck, one that will replace what Vergennes Fire Chief Jim Breur told the city council on Tuesday is a heavily used 1994 truck.
The council unanimously supported what was the recommendation of a Vergennes Volunteer Fire Department committee that included Breur and department officers and firefighters.
The committee had been studying department needs for three years, Breur said, and after deciding on replacing the 23-year-old truck had contacted about a dozen dealers and evaluated options at a number of price points before settling on what he called an “upper middle” choice.
“This truck will serve our city well,” Breur said.
At the same time, the chief acknowledged council members and residents might experience some of the sticker shock the committee felt when they talked to dealers.
“The dollar figure scares me,” Breur said.
But Breur said Engine 1, the first truck out to virtually every fire, is beginning to develop more problems, while parts are becoming harder to find.
“It’s getting near time to replace Engine 1,” he said.
If voters in March approve what City Manager Mel Hawley said could be a 20-year bond, officials said an order could be placed after the 30-day period to petition a vote expired. It would then take about a year for the company to fulfill the order, and the truck would be delivered in the spring of 2019.
The truck’s price tag is projected to be $520,000, but Hawley said he would recommend to aldermen that the department use $20,000 of what is now a roughly $45,000 fire department fund balance toward the purchase. He also said the city would continue to look for the best deal possible and the final price could be lower.
Hawley estimated that based on current interest rates that payments on a 20-year bond would start at about $36,100 a year and gradually drop to about $26,300 a year. He said rates could increase by 2019.
Based on current rates the increase to the annual fire department budget of about $165,000 would be about 22 percent in the first year. Vergennes is the first responder to Panton, Waltham and part of Ferrisburgh, and those towns share in paying for the department; the city share this year is $56,568.
A 22-percent increase in that figure would translate to an increase of about a half-cent on the municipal portion of the Vergennes tax rate, or $5 per $100,000 in assessed value. The impact would probably be smaller in the surrounding towns.
The truck’s price tag would not include equipment such as hoses and nozzles that could add up to $20,000 more, but Breur said the department hopes to sell Engine 1 for $15,000 to $20,000 to fund those necessities.
The new truck will offer safety features such as seatbelts and rollover protection, Breur said, and be able to hold six fully prepared firefighters in its cab.
“They’re all geared up at the scene and ready to go,” he said.
The only question from the council was whether the department should ask for more. Alderman Mark Koenig noted that some of the other four trucks also dated back to the 1990s and wondered what the replacement plan for them was, specifically whether it would be preferable to buy two trucks at the same time, possibly at a discount.
“What are we going to do with the other four?” Koenig said.
Breur said the department has a plan to replace a truck every five years and would stick to that schedule, although he acknowledged that timetable was stretched in this case to eight years. But he said the other trucks, while some are almost as old as Engine 1, are not as heavily used and are in better condition.
Breur also said he and the committee hesitated to ask residents to support what could have been a $1 million bond for two trucks.
“I can’t do that to the taxpayers,” he said.
 On Tuesday the council also approved a smaller fire department spending measure, out of the Ray E. Davison Fund. That fund was started when Davison, a Vermont fire training pioneer and longtime city department member, left almost $200,000 in his will to the department to be used for equipment purchases. The city spends a portion of the interest earned every year and retains the rest to grow the fund.
The council this week backed spending $20,770 on seven portable radios that Breur said can be used by firefighters inside burning structures to communicate with those on the outside, something he called a crucial safety measure. The seven radios will double the number the department owns.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at andyk@addisonindependent.com.

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