By TAYLOR MURCHISON-GALLAGHER
The Town Council held a public hearing on the budget Monday, April 2 in which much of the discussion focused on the need of the Plainville Fire Department to replace one of their engines.
As of the meeting, the total budget for fiscal year 2019 is set at $60,056,058, with approximately 60 percent ($37,322,912) going to the Board of Education and $22,733,146 allocated to general government.
For the 2016-2017 fiscal year, the actual expended amount by the fire department was $330,910. In 2017-2018, they budgeted $348,475, and for 2018-2019, they are looking at a decrease of about $500, bringing their FY19 budget to $347,950.
Plainville Fire Captain Kurt Plourde said he’s aware of the financial burden the town is facing and how it affects the taxpayers, but Engine One needs to be replaced.
“We can no longer put this off. This is based, not on a simple want or nice to have, it’s based on a need,” said Plourde. “Ensuring the safety of our volunteer firefighters should be of the utmost importance. Advances in technology, especially over the past 30 years, have outclassed previous versions of apparatus and safety; now you can get a firetruck that’s equipped with airbags and roll-over protection, which just 10 to 15 years ago, that wasn’t available. There’s a lot of specialized equipment on these vehicles, such as the pump, and keeping vehicles in service puts us behind on safety technology advances. I believe the right solution is to include the purchase/lease to replace Engine One in this budget year, and not put it off any longer.”
James Lenois Sr. is a safety officer at the PFD, and shared that fire Engine One was purchased in 1989, making the truck 29 years old. “It’s served the town very well. The current condition of Engine One has relegated the engine as a spare to be used only when absolutely necessary,” he said.
“Yesterday afternoon while most of you were enjoying your holiday lunch, we were at a structure fire. A rescue truck, a tower, two class A pumpers, and the only thing left in the barn was Engine One,” said Plainville Fire Chief, Kevin Toner. “What if we had another alarm? What if it was your house? What if it was your neighbor? Somebody you loved? Do you want to wait for mutual aid to show up? I don’t. I’m not willing to risk my firefighter’s lives or the lives of our citizens, that we’ve been sworn to protect, to chance. It’s not the right thing to do, we need to make sure we replace this truck this year. We owe it to our firefighters, our volunteers, and all of our citizens to make sure that they are well protected. They’re here volunteering their time, let’s make sure they all go home safe.”
Robert Planeta, second assistant chief, Thomas Moschini Sr., Deputy Fire Chief, Phillip Brousseau, Jeffrey Johnson, Martin Schiraldi, and Timothy Lennon are all members of the PFD who spoke in support of the additional fire truck.
A special meeting was held prior to the public hearing and regular meeting, in which the council discussed how they believe the new engine should be financed.
“At the end of the last work session, the council requested that staff take a look at whether the possible bonding of two fire trucks could fit into the town’s debt service plan going forward, without exceeding what had previously been amended as a ceiling for the debt service line item going forward for the foreseeable future, that being $4.4 million,” said Town Manager Robert Lee.
Lee said he had spoken with the town’s financial advisor and bond counsel, and they collectively determined that by 2023, the debt service should drop by approximately $2.5 million, which is roughly equivalent to $30 million in additional long-term borrowing that could be done, assuming a 3 percent interest rate. Currently, the long-term borrowing projects include Wheeler Elementary School, the high school parking lot, and the road bond phase one, all of which have been approved thus far. Those three projects, plus the fire trucks and the possibility of a second road bond, adds up to $22.6 million.
“There is sufficient capacity to absorb the two, if the decision is made to bond two fire trucks,” said Lee. “The $2.1 million is sufficient capacity to be able to handle that in the next five years.”
Council Chair Kathy Pugliese suggested putting two fire trucks to referendum, which would most likely take place in June. Councilor Chris Wazorko suggested reducing $75,000 from line items within the operational budget, adding that money to the capital budget, moving the money from utility two over to engine one, and eliminating the pickup truck from the capital as well.
The council voted to set a date and location for the all day budget vote, which is set to take place from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m., on Tuesday, April 24, at the Plainville Fire House.
Even though the budget has already been approved by the council, there was still discussion regarding how to finance the additional fire trucks after the public hearing.
Councilors Chris Wazorko, Scott Saunders, Rosemary Morante, and Jesse Gnazzo voted to have the truck added into the budget before sending it to the all day vote. The motion failed, as Ty Cox, Deborah Tompkins, and Kathy Pugliese voted to present the budget as is, and to send the additional fire trucks to referendum.