SVFD, Police Department make vehicle requests
During budget workshop, both departments raise concern over age of vehicles currently in use
April 22, 2020
During the first budget workshop for the Town of Saratoga on April 17, the Saratoga Town Council discussed needs for both the Saratoga Volunteer Fire Department (SVFD) and the Saratoga Police Department. Both departments expressed a need for updated vehicles, but only one department currently has the funds available for such a purchase.
Saratoga Volunteer Fire Department
SVFD Treasurer Creed James represented the fire department as he appeared before the council to explain the proposed budget. Last year, the SVFD had budgeted for $61,731 while the proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year is $105,052. Nearly a third of that, however, comes as part of a matching grant for bunker equipment.
An amount of $35,120 is budgeted under a line item for Fire Department Grant and is the matching amount as part of a Mineral Royalties Grant that SVFD had applied for earlier this year. At the February 18 meeting of the Saratoga Town Council, the governing body unanimously approved Resolution 2020-03 which granted SVFD permission to apply for the grant with $35,120 coming from the MRG and the same amount being matched through fundraising efforts by the fire department.
Under Saratoga Municipal Code 2.28.020, the Town of Saratoga will appropriate funds for the capital and operating expenses of the fire department. That same code also authorizes the SVFD to do fundraising to help defray expenses to the fire department. For the past two years, the SVFD has raised funds for the purpose of updating their bunker gear, which has been outdated for some time.
Another increase under the proposed budget for the SVFD is in capital improvements. With only $2,000 for the 2019/2020 fiscal year, that line item has increased by $8,000 for the upcoming fiscal year. According to James, this is due to the fire department’s intent to purchase an extractor for the cleaning of bunker gear.
According to James, it has been found that running bunker gear through a washer is not enough to remove contaminants such as hydrocarbons from a firefighter’s gear following a call. The extractor will rapidly spin the bunker gear at such a speed that the hydrocarbons and other contaminants will be removed. James stated that the fire department had been able to price one at just under $10,000 and added that the current washer has been owned by the fire department for at least 20 years.
Under capital equipment, the budget line item had been increased from $6,004 to $10,000. Creed informed the council that the SVFD was in need of equipment. This need had been noticed in more recent calls for the fire department as they are missing adapters and some hoses are in need of replacement.
Finally, while not a request for the upcoming fiscal year, James informed the council that the fire department would need to replace one of their trucks soon. According to James, the need for a truck had been expressed at budget workshops for the last seven years with little result. The SVFD Treasurer added that a new pumper truck would cost approximately $425,000.
Councilmember Jon Nelson, who serves as the SVFD representative for the Town of Saratoga, informed the rest of the council that a new truck has been discussed at business meetings for the fire department. He added that the SVFD could apply for a grant through the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) that would cover 80 percent of the cost.
The 20 percent share for the Town of Saratoga would come to $85,000.
“How do you swallow an $85,000 pill? There are several different municipal leasing companies out there. We were playing around with that and figured if we had to amortize it over five years at three percent, that’d be $18,000 a year for five years to offset the Town’s share of a pumper truck,” said Nelson. “That’s something that, I think, is a lot more palatable than $425,000. If we go down that road, in terms of talking about budgeting for it, I think we need to take seriously some of those grant opportunities and go after them and then talk seriously about what the other financing options are for the Town’s share of it.”
James informed the council that the lifespan of most firetrucks was estimated to be around 20 years. At least one of the trucks currently in use by the SVFD is nearly double that timeline.
“Typically a firetruck’s lifespan should be 20 years. We’ve got one at 38 and one that’s at 23 or 24 years. It’s something we’ve been bringing up everytime we come, see if the council has a plan for it,” said James. “At some point we’re going to have to get a new truck and it’s going to be expensive.”
At the last meeting of the Saratoga Town Council, the council approved the purchase of a used truck for the Saratoga Police Department (see “Resolutions and pursuit vehicles” on page 12 of the April 15 Saratoga Sun) and ratified a resolution for the purchase of new vehicles. The discussion of purchasing new vehicles also came up during the budget workshop as it appeared that the Saratoga Police Department was requesting two new vehicles for the 2020/2021 fiscal year.
“There was a discussion at the last meeting where we were talking about needing vehicles. I looked at it as a choice of `you buy this used one and we get a brand new one in this coming fiscal year or we get two new ones in this coming fiscal year,’” said Nelson. “The choice was made to get the used black one.”
Indeed, the council voted 4-1 for the purchase of the used truck, located in Laramie, for the cost of $29,990. At that meeting, Nelson had made the motion to deny the request for the used truck and, instead, purchase two new trucks using impact funds.
“I think what the chief is saying, though, is we needed the used one for right now and we’re still going to need two more because the fleet’s so old,” said Councilmember Steve Wilcoxson.
Councilmember Bob Keel also appeared to agree with the purchase of two new vehicles for the police department, but stated that the Town should budget for the purchase of one and, if there were excess funds at the end of the fiscal year, purchase a second. As discussion continued, Chief Ken Lehr stated that it could take from nine months to a year to get a vehicle for the police department after accepting a bid.
While Nelson expressed doubt about that, referencing the recent purchase by the Town of Hanna of new vehicles for the Marshal’s Office, Wilcoxson supported Lehr’s statement.
“You can go buy the vehicle off the lot but … if I go order a Cadillac that isn’t on the lot, it’s going to take me six weeks to get them to build it and that’s if the plants are up,” said Wilcoxson. “A police vehicle, when you order it, has different equipment on it and it just isn’t instant.”
The Saratoga Sun reached out to the Town of Hanna and confirmed that it took less than three months to acquire a new vehicle for the Hanna Marshal.
Throughout the discussion, Lehr expressed doubt that any impact funding would arrive to go towards the purchase of new vehicles. It was revealed, however, that there is approximately $77,000 of received impact funds earmarked for the Saratoga Police Department for the purchase of a new vehicle.
As Lehr’s time with the council discussing budget came to an end, Nelson expressed his concern with the budget for the Saratoga Police Department. With an overall budget for the Town of $3 million, the police department accounts for approximately $1 million of that.
“Before I even ran for council, before you were even chief, I was in agreement that we needed to get our fleet replaced. I just have a hard time looking at a $1.1 million police department budget,” said Nelson. “It’s a third of everything for the whole town and it’s hard to swallow.”