Effingham Daily News, Effingham, IL

February 20, 2013

Effingham City Council again denies fire engine purchase in split vote

Nicole Dominique
Effingham Daily News

EFFINGHAM — For the second council meeting in a row, Effingham City commissioners have disagreed over the purchase of a heavy rescue squad from Rosenbauer Fire Apparatus, ultimately turning down the purchase in a split vote.

Mayor Merv Gillenwater and Commissioner Alan Harris voted in favor of the purchase, while commissioners Brian Milleville and Matt Hirtzel, who was absent at the last meeting, voted against the proposal. Don Althoff was not present Tuesday, but also voted it down at the last meeting.

City Administrator Jim Arndt presented to the council the potential cost of waiting to replace the department's most outdated engine.

"Based on the figures that we have, we know it's going to go up about $15,000 (next year)," he said. "Bids could potentially come in lower, but we don't foresee that."

Gillenwater stressed the need for a new fire engine by saying while structure fires are down, interstate accidents are still a large portion of emergency calls.

"Our calls for service have changed ... which makes this even more important to us," he said about the vehicle. "I'm not sure we cannot afford it. If we intend to buy at any point and we put it off, it will probably cost us more money in the future."

After the first discussion one month ago in which Hirtzel spoke out against buying the vehicle with a bond, he admitted there were valid reasons for buying now as opposed to later.

"You're making excellent points," he said Tuesday.

Still, Hirtzel contended the money isn't there for the current purchase, believing the city should wait until funds become available to pay for the engine outright even if that leaves the department with less fire engines.

"I don't see how we can do that without somehow increasing our income to pay for them," he said. "Five vehicles are fiscally very difficult to do with the current income for our budget. Maybe we can only afford to have three of them, or four."

Gillenwater disagreed, saying during Joe Holomy's time as fire chief he has worked diligently on reducing the Effingham Fire Department's fleet of vehicles, thereby saving the city money.

The mayor is confident the vehicle is needed, as is Arndt.

"He's worked hard with his budget," the city administrator said of Holomy. "I think the need's been demonstrated to the council through many documents... This could potentially impact our ISO (Insurance Services Office) rating. If we purchase it now, we're going to fill the need."

Hirtzel, however, felt the cost is too much.

"Mathematically, you will be paying this amount, and what you're saying is that it's better to pay it tomorrow than today," Hirtzel said of the bond. "Five is unsustainable. It is."

Gillenwater worried that postponing the purchase could put the city in a sticky situation similar to what the state is going through.

"I'm just afraid we're going to do like the state did and push things off to the point where all of a sudden, we have all of this," he said. "It's very unlikely that we could ever save enough to pay it off in cash."

Although the purchase was denied due to the tie vote, the mayor said, "At least the public has been able to hear why we're doing what we're doing."