Although the Representative Town Meeting approved $1.33 million in bonds to buy new trucks for the Department of Public Works, some members of the legislative body said they want future requests to be paid through the annual budget and there also should be a long-term replacement plan.
The Monday night discussion took place as the RTM considered an overall non-recurring capital bonding request for $3.6 million, which was approved unanimously.
But it's not necessarily the DPW's fault that the purchase of so many trucks is being bonded at one time. For the last several town budget cycles, the DPW has asked for money to replace parts of its aging vehicle fleet.
Among the vehicles the DPW wants to replace is a 1989 bucket truck with 193,000 miles, a 6-wheel asphalt truck with a 1998 engine in a 1968 body and 98,250 miles, and a 1997 backhoe in use for 11,8000 hours.
Each year, however, most of those requests have been cut at some level of the budget process. In fact, of the 17 requests for new trucks made in the recent past, only one has received funding in the approved budget.
Department heads forward their budget requests to the first selectman, who can then make adjustments. Budgets are then scrutinized and voted on by the Board of Selectmen, Board of Finance and finally, the RTM.
"I do think the DPW does a great job and these are important pieces of equipment," Michael Herley, R-1, said. "I guess I struggle with bonding these."
He suggested that the DPW be required to provide a certain percentage of the purchase price as a "down payment."
But First Selectman Michael Tetreau, who cut many of the public works truck requests from the 2013-14 budget, said the town has under-funded the department's capital needs for too long.
"Our DPW doesn't have the tools, and they need the tools to operate" efficiently, Tetreau said. Herley then suggested the bonded amount could be reduced by 9.36 percent, with that amount coming out of the department's operations budget.
"The DPW cannot increase its budget for this year," Tetreau said.
"I'm not at all happy that we have to bond all these trucks," said Pam Iacono, R-9. "I understand how we got here." She said looking at the age and condition of the trucks being replaced, she didn't see how the RTM could, in good conscience, turn any of it down.
"I'm willing to do this as a one-off, catch-up," Iacono said, but added for future purchases, "I want a long-term replacement plan for these things. For so many years, the school district was put under pressure for a long-term plan ... the Fire Department did the exact same thing." She said long-term replacement plans should be required from every town department.
Fiscal Officer Robert Mayer said it is the town's intention to have a vehicle replacement plan for all major equipment in all departments.
Another suggestion was made that the DPW could contract out work some of the work it now does itself. Public Works Director Joseph Michelangelo, however, said the department already does hire contractors, such as to help with snow plowing, and Tetreau added that the DPW has done "one of the best jobs" of contracting out work to supplement its tasks.
Michelangelo said it's effective to have contractors to help handle peak work periods, such as snow storms, but added it is important to "have a dedicated town crew and dedicated group to handle it."
Majority Leader Ed Bateson, R-3, said he appreciates that the DPW has demonstrated a need for the vehicles, but like Herley, was not pleased about issuing bonds to pay for the vehicles.
Tetreau said a five-year vehicle replacement plan will be developed, but funding is needed now for the requested new equipment. "We still need to take action this year," he said.
"And $1.4 million for the DPW doesn't solve these needs?" Bateson asked.
"This is a bridge to the plan," Tetreau replied, a way to get the department caught up to where it should be, and get it on a regular replacement schedule.
Among the trucks that will be purchased are two 6-wheel dump trucks, a 10-wheel dump truck, a 6-wheel asphalt truck, a backhoe, a tree bucket truck and a garbage truck. All were included previously in the department's operating budget request for 2013-14, but not funded, and some can also be found in the department's 2012-13 budget. request
The overall bonding package that won approval also includes $100,000 for downtown streetscape improvements; $300,000 for repairs at Old Town Hall; $775,000 for a Fire Department ladder truck; $978,766 for a partial roof replacement at Mill Hill School, and boiler replacements at North Stratfield and Fairfield Warde High schools.
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