Letter: Avoiding debt warrants waiting on fire truck

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letters_flatTo the editor,

The comments that follow represent my personal opinion and are in no way meant to reflect the opinion of any member of the Board of Finance.

The citizens of Beacon Falls are being asked to again approve the purchase of a new fire truck, this time without the previous requirement that we first apply for a federal grant that could pay for up to 90 percent of the truck. This vote will be by paper ballot, not by a hand vote, on Monday, Sept. 23 7 p.m. at Woodland High School. Before they cast their vote, I request members of the town consider the following:

-The Board of Finance approved the purchase of a truck with the understanding that the grant process would be completed so we can potentially avoid having to pay for this on credit. We have no current control over how and when the truck is purchased.

-One of the key criteria for receiving a grant is the age of the equipment. The age deemed most critical by FEMA is 25 and above. Our current truck is 25.

-The department has benefitted greatly from the same grant in the past, which has paid for several equipment items currently in service.

-During the budget workshops when the truck was first presented to the Board of Finance, none of the reasons justifying the purchase reflected concern about firefighter safety.

-The risk to one of our volunteers remains the same today as it has for each of the approximately 10 years since our previous ladder truck was removed from service. Nothing about the equipment available to them has changed that would justify the rush to purchase on credit. I would never endorse any decision that would add risk to a firefighter.

– The town is currently facing significant costs involving the wastewater treatment plant and Board of Education, all of which will likely add to our debt burden and potentially increase taxes. It may also impact our ability to borrow in the future for large ticket items, including vital road repairs, in which case we are putting future members of the department at risk solely because we were unwilling to wait a little longer to try to get the grant.

Our volunteers take on tremendous risks for our town and I fully support any measures to ensure their ongoing safety. Anyone present at the budget meeting will recall I spoke very strongly in favor of purchasing the new truck. No one is asking the fire department to take on additional risk, and a vote against the immediate purchase is not a vote against them. It is a vote for financial discipline. They have been supported by the boards of Finance and Selectmen with approval, and they will have their truck by next year. I am simply requesting they not add to the risk of the town and continue to leverage neighboring towns as they have when a ladder truck is necessary. If we must buy because the FEMA grant has failed, then so be it. But “must” does not describe our current situation. The benefit of avoiding this debt warrants the wait, now more than ever when we consider the known costs just on the horizon. 

No matter your position on this subject I strongly urge you to make your voice heard by voting on the matter on Monday. This is an important issue on which the citizens should be heard.

Sincerely,

Jim Huk

Chairman, Board of Finance

Beacon Falls