Source: Lake Geneva Regional News

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City will borrow $875,000 more
Fire truck new addition to bonding

by Lisa Seiser

March 17, 2011

It was a tough, long and heated battle, which firefighters seem used to. But, in the end Monday night, Lake Geneva firefighters and officers were emotional and thankful.

The City Council voted 5-4 to borrow up to $875,000 to buy a new aerial platform fire truck, which will replace the current 1988 ladder vehicle. During the previous two council meetings, aldermen already had approved borrowing about $2.2 million for road repairs and equipment needs for the fire, police and public works departments. This additional borrowing increases the total to more than $3 million for capital improvements that must be used during the next three years.

Fire Chief Brent Connelly and Police and Fire Commission members Scott Storms and Mark Pienkos were adamant the new truck was a need, rather than a want. They cited safety and liability as reasons a new truck is necessary.

"I could speak to you about the need to replace the truck, the advantages of the 2007 diesel engine and the cost savings, aluminum versus steel, favorable interest rate and the lower cost of buying it this year rather than postponing — but I want to focus on safety to the community and the taxpayers," Pienkos said. "I also want to talk about safety to our firefighters because they are taxpayers as well. When there is danger in the community, they run to try to save the buildings and save lives."

Connelly said because of those efforts and the fact that most are not full-time firefighters, his personnel need the safest equipment available.

"We can look at this a number of ways, but the community comes first and the safety of firefighters is next," Connelly said. "We don't want a new toy like I've heard. This apparatus is getting old and these people don't do this full-time. I give them credit for doing what they do and they deserve the best, safest equipment."

Storms said the truck is a "need for the community" and what's most important is that "we are trying to do what is right for the community."

"When the Fire Department comes to you with a 1988 apparatus that is not going to last three or four more years — this is not a want, it is a need," Storms said. "We must take care of the needs of the school children and our people. We need to be strong for the community. I pay taxes, I know how much it goes up, but we must bite the bullet for the community. These are hard decisions to make."

City Administrator Dennis Jordan suggested the city borrow to pay for a new truck. He said the decision is safety first and financial second. He also said the trucks will get more expensive in the near future.

Alderman Frank Marsala, who voted against the borrowing, said it was a difficult decision to make.

"There are a lot of pros and cons on both sides, but I have a concern about the money," he said. "We are looking at a $1 million purchase. What do we need and what do we not need?"

Marsala said he wanted to wait a couple years before purchasing a new truck. He said the economy remains unstable and nobody knows what will happen in the coming months and years.

"I don't know if borrowing any more is a wise thing to do just because we have a large credit card with a credit line," Marsala said. "Do we need to borrow it right now on something we could do in two or three years."

Marsala also said the people he has talked are concerned about the economy and don't want to see the city increase its indebtedness.

Alderman Todd Krause, who went up in the aerial platform with his 9-year-old daughter last Wednesday, said the trip up was "convincing."

"I would be tentative to ever get on a stick ladder truck, but they took me up in this 70 or 80 feet," Krause said. "I can't imagine firefighters climbing, but that bucket was very secure, harnessed in. We can talk dollars and judge al you want, but if you go up in that piece, it will have an impact and you will understand the safety it offers the firefighters in the community. It certainly had an impact on me experiencing the safety that truck offered. I know it is a lot of money, but that was very convincing for me."

But, it was Alderman Tom Hartz who had the most questions and also had concerns. He asked about the age in which trucks must be replaced, whether the cost of a new truck will go up in the future, why the initial estimates were $1.2 million for a new truck, the maintenance costs on the new truck and what the Fire Department would do if the new truck was not approved.

"My concern is fire personnel safety," Hartz said. "I know the folks, but I also have to weigh the cost of this to the taxpayer and look at what's being projected with the state budget and the financial strain. I understand that safety is a huge issue. I am not intending on putting people in harms way with a decision that I make."

Hartz said whether the item is approved or not, the city must look at a future without needing to borrow.

"If every three years we are going to borrow, that's unsustainable," Hartz said. "We need to establish funds that will purchase equipment to keep the fire and police safe and the streets maintained. But we need to do it in a sustainable way that doesn't bankrupt the city. Borrowing $3 or $5 million is not the way to do that."

Storms said he believes the city is "dollar wise, but penny foolish."

"If you wait two or three more years to buy this truck, you're going to have to explain to the taxpayers why they are paying $400,000 more for this vehicle now than they would have," Storms said. "We need to take care of this need now."

Mayor Jim Connors broke the 4-4 tie when he voted in favor of borrowing for the new truck.

"Nobody wants to borrow money, me included," Connors said minutes before his vote. "Almost everyone needs to borrow when it comes to a major purchase. We wouldn't be living in a home if we couldn't borrow."

Krause, Hartz, Kehoe and Bill Mott voted in favor of the borrowing. Mary Jo Fesenmaier, Arleen Krohn, Don Tolar and Marsala voted against it.

Tolar suggested the issue go to referendum to allow the public to decide on the fire truck borrowing. That idea gained no steam. Hartz said he believes aldermen are elected to make the tough decisions and that's what he planned to do.

It appears as though the purchase will be for the aerial truck that was on display in the Fire Department parking lot last Wednesday afternoon and evening. That night, firefighters and some city officials were on hand to take a closer look at the vehicle, its specifications and capabilities. Last Wednesday, it was not known the truck that may be purchased was the one on display.

Following discussions with the sales personnel, the price on that specific truck dropped from $950,000 to the $865,000 number because of discounts offered to the city.

Pierce Manufacturing was described as the top fire apparatus builder and seller in the world, with about 50 percent of the market share. However, the economic downturn has made it difficult for municipalities to purchase new equipment. That is one reason why the cost of the trucks have been dropping. That is expected to change when the economy recovers.

During previous meetings, Jordan has said in the late 1990s, the city owed $16 million and today, the city owes $4.3 million. Jordan said the city has planned it so as one of the bond payments ends, another is added, so the amount of payment doesn't change, thus requiring no new tax money to be spent to pay off the debt. Currently, the city pays about $900,000 per year on its debt. An additional $100,000 was added for the anticipated bonding of around $3.2 million for the capital projects during the next three years.