Atwater (CA) Fire Apparatus Purchase Approved

The purchase of a new fire truck sparked a heated display of politics at a City Council meeting this week.

Two sides bitterly torn over the nearly $900,000 expenditure hashed it out Monday night. A series of interruptions and so-called personal attacks forced the politicians to call several “points of order” to regain control of the meeting.

But after an hour-long discussion, the council approved the purchase in a 3-2 vote. Councilmen Jeff Rivero and Joe Rivero voted against the item.

Using a lease financing option, the 109-foot ladder truck will cost $890,048 with an annual payment of $89,209 over the next 10 years, according to city documents. The money will come from Measure H funds, which are expected to reach $1.2 million by the end of the fiscal year.

Officials said the current Measure H balance stands at $936,075.

Measure H, the voter-approved special tax to support public safety, added a half-cent tax hike for all transactions. The measure passed with a 67.1 percent vote in March 2013.

Fire officials said the new fire truck is needed to replace two aging pieces of equipment and to provide a higher ladder to reach the top of several city structures. The department’s highest ladder is 24 feet and isn’t tall enough to reach the top of some buildings — the Bloss House, Buhach Colony High School and Kmart, to name a few.

“This is unsafe for my firefighters or anybody to actually do any operations on top of this building,” California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection Battalion Chief Mark Pimentel said during the meeting, showing pictures of the ladder propped up next to the buildings.

The fire station owns a 50-foot ladder from 1979, but Pimentel said it’s out of service and outdated, and repairs would be too “costly.” If a fire breaks out at one of Atwater’s tall buildings, Pimentel said, the department would request mutual aid from the county or the city of Merced, but help is not guaranteed.

Opponents of the fire truck said the money should be used to hire more police officers and increase “boots on the ground” because that’s how the measure was touted to voters last year. They also called into question whether the equipment is necessary since Atwater doesn’t have many structures over 35 feet.

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