A letter to Council from the Thorsby Fire Chief Norm Osness requesting a new tanker truck arrived after the 2013 budget had been largely worked out, sparking vigorous debate.
Here are the various perspectives:
Fire Department: Writing on behalf of all firefighters, Chief Osness points out volunteer firefighters had put in over 200 hours converting the old oilfield water hauler into the tanker truck now in use.
He then states, “We feel that our current tender has a limited time before a catastrophic failure is inevitable.” He believes purchasing a new truck would be more cost effective than simply replacing the 19-year-old tank that is showing signs of wear. A new truck would be a 20-plus-year asset. Replacement would cost ¼ of the price of a new truck—but then they’d still be left with an older truck and attending maintenance costs.
Town Manager: Noting that the issue of the old water tanker has been discussed with Council and CAO for some time, T.M. Payette said that firefighters may have lost confidence in the asset and that they are very concerned of a complete failure during an emergency situation. The purchase was not included in the long term strategic plan, neither was it included in the list of capital items for the 2013 budget review process. Bylaw#2003-04 Fire Services Bylaw provides authority to the Fire Chief through the CAO to ensure apparatus and equipment necessary to safeguard the health and welfare and safety of people and to protect people and property. The Fire Department has two mutual aid agreements—one with Capital Region municipal members and one with Leduc County municipal members. The cost of a new $220,000 truck could be debentured over 10 years (Annual service on debt would be $24,667.26 annually), 15 years ($17,950.72), or 20 years ($14,729.42 ). He cautioned that time is of the essence—the next available debenture draw (there are two per year), is June 17, 2013.
Councillor Osness abstained from the discussion due to conflict of interest—her husband is Fire Chief.
Councillor Pharis stressed there is an equal asset sitting there—Leduc County’s tanker and there is an agreement in place to use it. She is not comfortable spending the money, concerned that there is no capital budget remaining this year for a purchase. She also points out “the grader is on its last legs, and that is used on a daily basis six months of the year.” She asked what happens to the roads next year? She is also concerned that it might impact a job position in the Village. Pharis requested more budget discussion.
Councillor Hart said this is not a new issue, “It was brought up three years ago that the tanker was gone.” He supports the purchase and draws attention to the fact that the East industrial park area is not covered (via water hydrants), so there’s a strong need for a tanker.
Councillor Williams said, “I’m 110% in support of the new tanker. I am not willing to waver on public safety. Public safety is paramount!” He stated we can’t count on someone else’s tanker to ensure our municipality’s safety. However, he indicated it was fair if other Councillors needed more time to discuss the issue noting that he did not like being pressured, recently, to make a quick decision over a previous unbudgeted break down. He said he was “agitated to the tenth degree that this, the grader and the river pumps weren’t presented at the time (of budget deliberations).”
Mayor Rasch said he was torn on the issue. “So many good things to find dollars for! I thought we did a good job on the budget, now I’m uncomfortable—here we are ready to accept the new budget and we’re facing more budget items. The 2013 budget is heavily weighted and we’re trying to play catch-up.” Rasch also wonders about the other expenses involved such as flying down to bring it back, and equipment modification. He favors getting an expert opinion on the remaining life of the current tanker and feels a cost analysis would be a benefit to the village. “We need hard numbers based on facts.” He asked if Council could have the information in two weeks. Payette said he expects one or two more proposals within that time.
Council voted to further discuss the purchase of a new tanker truck and debenture debate at the next planning meeting and during the April 9 Regular Council meeting and asks that Chief Osness be present.