Northbridge (MA) to Fund Fire Apparatus Purchase

In order not to lose a $712,500 federal grant to buy a new fire truck, selectmen voted to fund the remaining cost by using money from budget transfers, free cash and the stabilization fund.

Last month, the Fire Department received a $712,500 Assistance to Firefighters Grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency that will be used to pay for about 80 percent of the cost for a new ladder truck. Fire Chief Gary Nestor said the new ladder truck will have a life span of 30 years, and the total cost was estimated to be between $940,000 and $960,000.

The current truck is 32 years old.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Chief Nestor said.

The selectmen opted to aim for the lower total cost and chose to fund that $240,000 gap from town accounts, rather than pursuing a capital exclusion on the ballot in the Nov. 4 state election.

Selectmen have already voted to pursue two capital exclusions in November — $311,000 for the School District for various projects, including air conditioning repairs at the high school and middle school, security equipment throughout the district, and kitchen repairs at the W. Edward Balmer School; and $300,000 to extend the road maintenance program.

The town’s stabilization account has a about $1.7 million, and the $240,000 — or whatever portion of that amount that will need to be funded — will put a slight dent in the fund reserved for emergencies.

“In my mind, this is a very important item the town needs,” Town Manager Theodore D. Kozak said as the selectmen debated whether use existing town money or seeking a third capital exclusion to fund the remaining cost of ladder truck. “If a ballot question is defeated, it could jeopardize the purchase of the ladder truck.”

Mr. Kozak added that tapping into the stabilization fund should not hurt the town’s bond rating

“I hate using stabilization for a long-term project,” said Selectman James Athanas, who was not against the new truck, but questioned the source of funding. “This is a long-term capital project and we are using short-term funds to pay for it. I don’t think stabilization should be used for a piece of capital.”

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