Posted by Mayor (+132) 13 years ago
Some of you may be aware that the City Council decided to amend the Preliminary Budget by striking a provision for 5% matching funds in the amount of $4,500 toward the purchase of a $90,000 Water Tender for our Fire Department. A tender is a high-capacity tanker designed to haul water to either wildland or structural fires located beyond the reach of fire hydrants. If the City is awarded the grant, it would receive $85,500 in return for setting aside $4,500 in matching funds. That sounds like a pretty good deal, doesn't it?

The amendment to reject this opportunity passed by a vote of 6-2, with Councilmen Ackerman and Leidholt opposed.

Without taking too much space in this initial post, let me say that I strongly support the position of Councilman Ackerman and Councilman Leidholt and I'm having a difficult time understanding the logic behind the majority decision of the Council. So, I'm writing in hopes of finding a third way.

I've asked the Fire Chief to prepare a 5 year projected budget of annual maintenance costs for the new tender prior to our next Council meeting in order to quiet fears of "runaway expenses". But I'm also interested in learning if there would be one or more benefactors with close ties to Miles City who'd be interested in taking a write-off from a donation of part or all of the matching portion of the grant, provided the contribution doesn't violate its terms. Finally, I'm interested in your feedback on the matter.

If no one steps forward between now and our meeting at 7 p.m. next Tuesday evening, I plan to veto the amendment.

Your thoughts?
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Posted by David Schott (+17509) 13 years ago
Questions:

1.) Why is the new water tender required?

2.) Is the water tender new or used?

3.) Did the 4 councilmembers who voted in favor of the amendment explain why they are opposed to the water tender?

- Dave
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Posted by Mayor (+132) 13 years ago
1.) Why is the new water tender required?

a) Prior to the formation of the Custer County Fire Department, all wildland fire vehicles, including two water tenders, were garaged and maintained at the fire hall as part of the Wildland Fire Program. They've since been removed on the order of the Commissioners. One now is located at CCRVFC and the other has been dispatched into the countryside, according to Chief Rodgers.

b) Two water tenders are required as shuttles, in addition to a stationary portable tank, at fires where no water source is available in order to maintain flow through our pumpers. MCFD is down to one recently acquired used pumper/tender.

c) The City earns $38,500 in revenue through annual structural fire contracts with property owners living or doing business outside of the city limits beyond the reach of hydrants.

d) There are areas within Miles City that are not yet serviced through fire hydrants, including blocks of brush landscape near residential and/or commercial areas.

e) Miles City is due for an ISO inspection soon, most likely within the next year. The lack of adequate suppression equipment under the direct and immediate control of MCFD will raise our Public Protection Classification (numerically) and increase fire insurance premiums citywide.

2.) Is the water tender new or used?

Even at a cost of $90K, the tender would likely be late-model, pre-owned.

3.) Did the 4 councilmembers who voted in favor of the amendment explain why they are opposed to the water tender?

There were 6 councilmen voting in favor of the amendment. The arguments voiced by those in support of the amendment were that a) the people of Miles City still feel as though MCFD has too much equipment in the shed, b) maintenance costs of the tender would be too high, c) the City can't afford to spend $4,500, and d) the City has a mutual aid agreement with Custer County Fire (it doesn't). The City does have a signed mutual aid agreement with CCRVFC, but they don't own the tender sitting in their shed.
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Posted by David Schott (+17509) 13 years ago
Thanks, Joe.

c) The City earns $38,500 in revenue through annual structural fire contracts with property owners living or doing business outside of the city limits beyond the reach of hydrants.

Would you say the water tender is necessary to continue to meet the obligations of those contracts? Would the lack of the water tender so hinder the City's ability to fight those structural fires that the City could be found in breach of contract and/or be at risk of being held liable for loss of property or life? Can the City get out of those contracts? Does it make financial sense to drop those contracts and give up that revenue stream?

I could just see it, the City refuses to pony up $4500 today, then loses those contracts, then has to make up for the shortfall in the budget due to the loss of revenue from those contracts.

Aside from all of that, points d) and e) seem to indicate to me that the $4500 would be a wise investment.

I find it hard to believe the Council can't agree on that.

What happens if the mayor vetoes the amendment? Does the Council vote to override the veto? How many votes are needed to override?

Finally, I must say that I find it hard to be sympathetic with city residents in this matter. City residents make up, what, 70% or more of the County population and it's their leaders (County and City) that have put them in this predicament. The duplication of effort on the part of the County and the City seems foolish to me and I think it was the actions of the County Commissioners as much as anyone that created that duplication.

- Dave
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Posted by Richard Bonine, Jr (+15082) 13 years ago
Hell, why not just put a big horse trough in the County ambulance and make your fleet multitask.

[This message has been edited by Richard Bonine, Jr (edited 9/3/2008).]
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Posted by Eric Brandt (+839) 13 years ago
How much revenue will be lost when we cannot serve the contracted clients who pay for services outside city water limits?

Will ending structural fire contracts outside city limits serve the population better or worse than providing them now?

How much are we paying to borrow or rent the tender from the Baker area to serve those clients?

What sort of "run-away maintenance costs" are being expected? What is the total maintenance budget for all MCFR equipment, and how does that average per unit?

If I recall the numbers, the MCFR contracts bring in something like $30,000 per year in revenue. You will need to find that $30,000 somewhere in the already very thin budget. I suggest you take it from the Road Department following the example of our bigger-brother Custer County.

A better idea - since the commissioners are making $7,000 more a year than their predecessors, maybe they could pitch in the $4,500 "in good faith" to show their unbounded benevolence.

The City needs that tender. Not only can we not service our Rural structural contracts, but our in-limits wildland fire and other purposes require that tender as well. If we can get a $90,000 tender for $4,500 which will save us time, save our $30,000 revenue stream, and serve the public who is paying a premium for quality services then the Mayor needs to veto that amendment.
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Posted by J. Dyba (+1344) 13 years ago
I'm consistently amazed by the yokels you have running the show in MC. Good luck to you mayor, you always seem to be pushing uphill to get anything done.
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Posted by Chuck Schott (+1291) 13 years ago
If there is no additional or minimal additional costs to have the new equipment it seems like a No Brainer to me. But I have never known Leif to pass up a free lunch so I wonder if we are getting the whole story here.
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Posted by Mayor (+132) 13 years ago
Would you say the water tender is necessary to continue to meet the obligations of those contracts?

Yes.

Would the lack of the water tender so hinder the City's ability to fight those structural fires that the City could be found in breach of contract and/or be at risk of being held liable for loss of property or life?

Yes.

Can the City get out of those contracts?

Not with any integrity to show for our effort.

Does it make financial sense to drop those contracts and give up that revenue stream?

I'm not sure how it would. "Stream" is the operative word. We take a one-time expense of $4,500 and, in return, we not only enjoy an $85.5K match but we secure the basis of an annuity of $38.5K per year. That makes sound financial sense to me.
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Posted by Tony Ackerman (+184) 13 years ago
(Wearing my private citizen / business owner hats).

It's important enough to Gale and I, our home and our businesses that we'll contribute $250 at this time.

Count us in.

Tony
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Posted by Todd Larson (+143) 13 years ago
Mr. Mayor,
I can see the need for water tender, the reasons are quite obvious. My question is, for those areas in Miles City, why isn't there fire hydrants and service in those areas? It would seem to me that those areas should be kind of a high priority to provide service.

I do not know for sure the areas in which you have made reference to and their location. If this area is within the boundries of the City, it would be logical to provide service to them. I do not know the feasiblity of providing the service, but maybe you could explain to me about these areas.

I do not mean to put you on the spot but I wish to rid myself of my ignorance on subject.

(no comment from the peanut gallery) That was for my adversaries not you Mr. Mayor.
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Posted by Leonard Smith (+25) 13 years ago
There are two more reasons to purchase one or more reliable water tenders.

Althought the city water system is very reliable, it can fail in a specific area or suffer from an overall failure due to a major arterial line from the plant being broken and having the system "drain down". In these scenarios, tender-shuttle operations from a draft source such as the river would be the only adequate water supply to fight any signifigant fire. Enough tankers or tenders can handle most residential fires, but how would you like to loose a structure because you were just a couple thousand gallons short of enough water to completely control the fire.

If a tanker or tender-shuttle operation can be established at a rural location and continued for a few hours at a steady flow rate, the insurance industry may recognize this water supply method and grant a reduced rate for a rural area. In other words, if you can run enough tankers to porta tanks and keep flowing water flowing reliably at a high rate, you can offer an insurance break as an incentive to contract with the city and thus increase revenues. Enough good water tenders are key to doing this.

Why pass up a bargain like this?

Since I have been out of the fire service for a few years, my information about what the insurance industry will rate may not be current. It wouldn't take long to find out by inquiring with the ISO.
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Posted by Tony Ackerman (+184) 13 years ago
"I do not know for sure the areas in which you have made reference to and their location. If this area is within the boundries of the City, it would be logical to provide service to them. I do not know the feasiblity of providing the service, but maybe you could explain to me about these areas."

Todd, I'll try to get more detailed information for you this week on the specific areas where service has yet to be delivered. I know of several but I'd rather outline the complete list and I don't have that at hand.

"Why isn't there fire hydrants and service in those areas? It would seem to me that those areas should be kind of a high priority to provide service."

Those areas are of high concern. I can't speak to the why of the history, but I can speak to the why of the present; cost and priority. Building service infrastructure such as this is VERY expensive and the city's current fiscal resources allow for only so much debt service. The most immediate concern in this area that the current council had to face was the replacement of the failed Carbon Hill water tank and the replacement of crumbling water infrastructure on the NE side of town. Those two projects alone are in excess of $5 million. The terms that the city received on the money to accomplish these projects are very favorable, but favorable or not, there is a limit to how much debt the city can effectively manage given the current tax base and we have to be very careful to balance need against available financial resources. Given the situation as it stands today, a $90k water tender is an extraordinarily good value to provide protection in areas where water delivery is compromised or non-existent.

Given the current tax base, I would offer that is vitally important to expand and develop our industrial and business base in town. This is critical to the long term economic health and viability of this community. By industrial and business base, I'm not referring to small retail and food service based business, I'm referring to business that may involve natural resource development, value added industry or service industries that provide significant value outside of the local market area, businesses that employee 30-40+ people.

These types of businesses bring wealth into a community rather than further depleting the community's existing dollars and in my opinion, that is what is needed. We also need to find a way to convince people to shop locally and keep their dollars here rather than spending them outside of the local economic base.

With a diversified industrial base, we create more career focused jobs. With more career focused jobs, the younger population of this community has an incentive to stay here, build a life and reverse the "brain/labor" drain of a very much shrinking age group here in town. With a strong job base, the community grows at a reasonable rate and we can begin to reverse the median age of the community. If we can develop this within the city limits in particular, we develop the means to further address the infrastructure shortfalls in areas of the community.
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Posted by Mayor (+132) 13 years ago
I've just reviewed a letter, dated Sept.5th, from FEMA's Firefighter Grant Program to which we applied for matching funds for the Water Tender under discussion. The funding limit in the program was $140 million and FEMA received 21,000 applications. This letter confirms that our funding request was denied.

Consequently, I've pulled the line-item veto from the agenda for tonight's City Council meeting. If any of you were planning to attend in support of the veto, I'd like to thank you for your interest and support but we won't be considering the matter this evening. I fully expect that we'll apply again in FY 2009.

Special thanks to you, Tony. You and your wife set a great example for the rest of us to follow by your willingness to pledge $250 toward the City's match toward this grant. Thank you.
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