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Councilman seeks to speed up fire truck (plan)

Similar to what’s needed from that vehicle in an emergency, a Mount Airy councilman wants fast action on providing the city with a new fire truck — and an even quicker response regarding funding issues involved.

North Ward Commissioner Tom Koch, who at an earlier meeting had complained about the city government “kicking the can down the road” with decisions concerning major expenses such as vehicles, shifted into a higher gear during the council’s most recent meeting.

“I don’t know about the rest of you, but this procrastination business is just driving me crazy,” Koch said to fellow commissioners.

In an unexpected move near the end of the meeting on Thursday of last week, Koch demanded that a five-year funding plan be prepared for those items sooner rather than later. He said it should detail the costs of acquiring not only the fire truck but two new garbage trucks to allow the introduction of automated collections.

Koch added that he wanted information on annual payments — if the money for those acquisitions is borrowed — or where it would come from otherwise, and how much ultimately will be saved by cutting jobs of human garbage collectors.

The first-term commissioner’s tone was punctuated by his implication that this process has not progressed as rapidly as he would like.

“I want to ask at every meeting until we finally get something,” Koch said of movement on the issue.

“Long term this will save the city money,” he said in reference to automating garbage collection. Along with permanently eliminating four positions, this would remove benefit costs and workmen’s compensation burdens surrounding one of the nation’s most-dangerous jobs, Koch observed.

“It just doesn’t make sense to me to keep procrastinating on trying to save money,” he commented further. “Of course, we need the fire truck,” as a safety consideration.

The discussion raised by Koch was a carry-over from the board’s previous meeting on Nov. 5, when it pored over a five-year capital improvements plan totaling $14.5 million in major building and equipment needs including vehicles.

Topping the list is the new fire engine with a price tag of $561,750, to replace a 20-year-old truck that is used up, and the two garbage collection trucks costing $760,000, with new carts also required in implementing the automated system.

Other vehicle purchases eyed for just the next, 2020-21 fiscal year include a dump truck for the city’s public services/streets unit ($160,000), a leaf machine ($120,000), police patrol vehicles ($115,749), a police vehicle used for vice investigations ($26,250) and a truck for Reeves Community Center ($35,000).

The total comes to around $1.8 million.

Just the numbers, please

At their Nov. 5 meeting, the commissioners seemed in general agreement about adding the fire and garbage trucks, without making any firm decisions on timelines or potential funding methods.

“We weren’t instructed to bring it back at any specific time,” City Manager Barbara Jones said in responding to Koch implying that staff members had been dragging their feet on the proposal.

“Commissioner, we’re not procrastinating.”

The city manager’s understanding from the previous meeting was that she and city Finance Director Pam Stone were instructed to work with Doug Carter, a Charlotte consultant, in exploring funding solutions for the trucks and otherwise proceed on capital needs.

No formal vote on the process occurred, Jones reminded.

But Koch pressed Thursday for a more-accelerated procedure, saying he didn’t want to delay action until budget planning sessions that might be weeks away under usual municipal procedure.

“I would like to see those numbers, and I don’t want to have to wait two months to see them,” he urged. “I’d like to see it as soon as possible.”

Koch said of buying the vehicles, “If it’s the right thing to do, then the time to do it is now.”

If ordered today, it would take about a year for the fire engine to be put in service and around nine months for the garbage vehicles, council members have been advised.

Koch clarified that what he wants now from Jones is just the financial figures, which he continually stressed during the recent meeting while seemingly growing impatient at times.

“Barbara, I’m not asking you to buy the trucks — all I want is the numbers.”

After the city manager advised Koch at one point that the board ultimately will need to make some decision about funding the trucks, Koch replied that the details he seeks will aid this result.

“It’s just numbers — it’s not saying we’re going to vote on it,” he said of official action to acquire the vehicles. “I don’t know how I can be any more specific.”

Koch told Jones that “looking at the numbers will help us make a decision — having no information does not help us make a decision.”

The North Ward commissioner said he won’t vote on anything until the funding details are received, with the commissioners subsequently approving a motion introduced by him to have those ready, if possible, by the board’s first meeting in December. It is scheduled next Thursday.

At this point, Koch says he would be in favor of borrowing the money for the vehicles with interest rates being quite low.

Other possibilities include immediately using money from the city’s surplus fund, which remains at a healthy level despite the pandemic.

The city manager pointed out that deciding now to buy the trucks also could require a lengthy process, including gaining required approval for a loan from the Local Government Commission, a state regulatory agency.

A budget amendment would be needed to supply the funding from the surplus, with Jones emphasizing that the vehicles can’t be obtained without money for them in place.

Koch responded that simply getting the numbers does not require a budget amendment or Local Government Commission sanction.



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