WILLIAMSTOWN — Less than three years after buying a twice-refurbished ladder truck, the Select Board was told this week a key piece of the firefighting apparatus — the ladder — needs to be refurbished again.
That was the bad news.
The good news is that money for what could be a $45,000 fix to a 20-year-old truck the town bought for $200,000 in 2016 is available, now that an accounting glitch involving the acquisition of a new fire truck has been resolved.
The board had planned to finance the new truck — an 2017 HME rescue pumper — over five years, but the $100,000 expense was inadvertently paid in full over the summer. That depleted the town’s fire truck fund and board members approved the paperwork needed to correct the error at their Monday night meeting.
Town Manager Jackie Higgins presented the board with documents needed to secure a four-year, $80,000 loan from Peoples United Bank at 2.85% interest that she said would enable the town to pay the new truck off $20,000 installments as originally planned.
The current year’s installment — $20,000 plus interest — is spoken for, but the balance of the borrowed money — nearly $60,000 — will be placed back in the fire truck fund.
The timing is fortuitous because Fire Chief William Graham told board members they’ll need to spend much of that money fixing the 1999 ladder truck.
Following a fire in April, Graham said it appeared some of the trucks seals were leaking and, upon closer inspection, it appeared the ladder was “bowing” and the waterway appeared to have issues as well.
Graham said he contacted the manufacturer and was told fixing the problem will require disassembling and reassembling the 75-foot ladder and the waterway — work that must be performed at its plant in Pennsylvania.
Graham’s “best-case” estimate for fixing the ladder truck and transporting it to and from Pennsylvania is $35,000. However, he warned it could cost $45,000 if the cables and shims all need to be replaced.
“It’s expensive,” Graham said. “You can’t sugarcoat it.”
While the ladder needs to be repaired, Graham said the truck itself is still in “excellent condition” and the manufacturer will conduct a “bumper-to-bumper” inspection before starting the anticipated repairs.
Chairman Matthew Rouleau said that “once-over” would provide useful information to the town before any significant expense is incurred.
“They will make sure whatever repairs we do … they’re going to be worth it,” he said.
Graham said he is confident that will be the case, and the truck remains operable and will continue to be used until January when it will be taken out of service for repairs that are expected to take about a month.
Board members agreed to spend up to $45,000 in repairs and Rouleau told Graham to keep members “in the loop” with respect to the inspection.
Graham said he would and predicted the repairs approved by the board would extend the life of the ladder truck by another 20 years.
In an unrelated matter, board members expressed tentative support for an ordinance recently suggested by Graham that would enable the department to bill for some of the services it provides.
Rouleau said the ordinance needed legal vetting, but he and others expressed support for the concept of creating a new revenue source that could be used as a tool to recruit and retain local firefighters.
The ordinance proposed by Graham would divert revenue collected by the town into a fund that could be used to provide an additional financial incentive for qualifying firefighters.
Initially proposed as a property tax credit, board members seem more supportive of using any money collected pursuant to the proposed ordinance to provide annual stipends for firefighters, in addition to the hourly rate they are paid when responding to emergencies.