Grant for fire truck not an option this year

Finance board wants town meeting to vote on purchase

BFTownHall

BEACON FALLS — With the recommendation of holding another town meeting, the Board of Finance put how to go about purchasing a fire truck back into the Board of Selectmen’s court.

The Board of Finance voted Tuesday night to recommend to the Board of Selectmen that another town meeting be held in order to vote on moving forward with buying a new quintuple combination pumper fire truck for Beacon Hose Company No. 1 without applying for a federal grant to help offset the costs.

In September, the town voted to authorize a $700,000 bond resolution to purchase the truck. The resolution stipulated no money would be bonded for the truck before July 1, 2014 as the town applied for a grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program to help pay for it.   

However, the town’s eligibility for the grant came under question due to the wording of the resolution.

David Parr, a regional fire program specialist with the grant program, said in an email last fall to former Board of Finance Chairman Jim Huk that, in his mind, the town is ineligible for the grant since it has appropriated money for a new fire truck, but was holding off on spending the funds in hopes of getting the grant.

As the town tried to determine whether it was eligible, the town didn’t press forward with applying for the grant and missed the deadline to do so. 

First Selectman Christopher Bielik said Tuesday he contacted the FEMA help desk in Washington D.C. and was told that once the deadline had passed on Dec. 4 there was nothing anyone could due to get the town an extension.

“Once the deadline window closes, that’s it for that particular year. So we are invited to participate again for 2014 when that window opens later this year,” Bielik said.

Bielik said he contacted Town Attorney Michael McVerry to inquire about how the town should move ahead since it had not actually applied for the grant, but the wording of the resolution stated it would.

Bielik said McVerry’s legal opinion is there’s no problem in moving forward with the purchase of the truck.

“Now it is up to us to decide at what time do we press go,” Bielik said.

Bielik suggested going ahead with bonding for the truck so it could be included as one of the items when the town refinances its bonds in March.

“If we believe that the town intends us to spend the $700,000 … for that fire truck even though we never got out of the gate with the FEMA grant for all those reasons, then we should press on with it and get it included in the bond issue that we’re going to do,” Bielik said.

Finance board Vice Chairman Jack Levine took issue with the legal opinion, saying he did not agree the town should move forward yet.

“I went back to the minutes of the meeting. I read the minutes, I read the comments, I read the resolution, and I know these are lawyers, but the resolution was pretty clear. It said that we had to apply for a FEMA grant. It may not come to pass, but we had to apply for the grant. Then, upon not getting it, on July 1, 2014 the town can move forward,” Levine said.

Following a fire in September that destroyed a house and injured one man, the town held a subsequent town meeting to vote on buying the truck without the grant.  

Levine pointed to the result of that meeting.

“By a margin of almost two to one the residents said no. They said no,” Levine said.

Levine was concerned if the town simply went forward with the purchase of the fire truck now, residents would be upset and the purchase would be challenged.

Board of Finance member Brian Ploss agreed with Levine and echoed his statement about not moving forward with the purchase just yet.

“Based on the wording that we know was passed, I can not, in good faith, put in moving forward with this. I believe that we are still bound by the original wording,” Ploss said.

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