In the Village of Lancaster, firefighters want a new $1.2 million ladder truck they say is needed to replace a 1978 model.
Many are anxious, because they say they’ve been asking to replace it for years.
But timing and cost remain big issues. Village officials, some of them who are firefighters themselves, are weighing all of it.
Village trustees said they are not saying “no” but they also haven’t indicated when they’ll make a decision.
“We have to make it fiscally responsible and palatable to the residents,” said Trustee William C. Schroeder, a firefighter and former village fire chief.
For starters, the ladder truck, which would involve the village bonding money to pay for it, is expensive. A new fire truck can easily cost $500,000.
Government leaders also worry because the village’s current debt totals between $3 million and $4 million at a time when the village also was forced to spend about half of its $1.6 million in reserves to pay for $760,000 in November snowstorm expenses.
The dynamic is triggering friction. Many point out that surrounding communities have ladder trucks that help on mutual aid calls.
The tallest structure for which the village would need a ladder is the 10-story senior living tower on West Pleasant Avenue.
As it considers the purchase of a new fire truck, the Village Board also said it is working on developing a five-year capital project plan to prioritize equipment and building needs.
“The Fire Department is not being neglected,” Schroeder said. “We will replace that truck. It’s a matter of when. But we’re talking a hell of a lot of money, and we have existing debt.”
Schroeder said the village has never shortchanged the fire department. He noted the village spent $150,000 in 2000 to refurbish the ladder truck. Since then, the village has bought eight vehicles for the fire department, including pumpers and chief and assistant chief vehicles, he said. Moreover, an estimated $470,000 in still owed on the last pumper that was bought four years ago.
Fire Chief Joseph M. Ligammare can’t seem to get a new ladder truck fast enough and has been urging the Village Board to buy it as quickly as possible to lock in 2014 pricing. Doing so could save $60,000, he said.
“My idea was to try to kick the can down the road,” Ligammare said, noting the fire department could pick up the interest payments for a few years on the ladder truck, while also considering that perhaps other village capital equipment purchases could be lumped in with fire apparatus purchases over the next few years. “My goal was to try to bring other alternatives to the table to try to soften the blow to taxpayers.”
He offered to have the Fire Department’s budget pay the $11,000 in interest owed in 2016 on the new truck for the first few years and to forego his $5,200 yearly stipend until the village would begin handling the debt in 2017.
“Where do we go from here?” Ligammare said after a recent village work session.“It’s been discussed. Years ago, we said it needed to be replaced in time. And, yet, we keep going on.”
A super majority board vote is required, meaning that four trustees on the five-member Village Board must vote in favor of it.
The Fire Department was told under former Mayor William Cansdale’s administration that 2017 would be a better time to make such a purchase. Fire officials have continued to lobby Mayor Paul M. Maute, who also is on the department’s roster.
“We will make the best decision for the safety of the community and also for the taxpayers,” Maute said. “There is a need for a hook and ladder truck. Is there an urgency? I would say ‘yes,’ but not today. It’s not going to break down today.”
In a detailed Dec. 31 memo to the board, Maute highlighted various concerns and also the importance of public safety, but basically called for holding off. He suggested an order for the replacement ladder truck be voted on this fall. The truck would take nine months to build. Delivery of the truck could then occur in July 2016, with the first bond payment due in July 2017.
Trustee Dawn Robinson said she remains worried about the cost. “There are a lot of options,” she said. “From a public safety standpoint, I think there’s a very real need.”