NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

February 11, 2014

Town officials urge voters to fund new ladder truck

BY ANGELJEAN CHIARAMIDA
STAFF WRITER

---- — SEABROOK — During the years he served as Seabrook’s fire chief, Jeff Brown said he’d never ask taxpayers to foot the bill for a new ladder truck, even though he believed one was needed.

But that just changed.

Retired now, Brown broke his promise at the recent Deliberative Town Meeting Session. He rose, as did former fire Chief Keith Sanborn, to make a case for Article 14 on this year’s warrant, which asks for the first of five $175,000 payments over the coming years that will buy Seabrook an $875,000, 5-year lease/purchase on a new 100-foot platform ladder truck.

The two former chiefs joined current fire Chief Everett Strangman, Deputy Chief Koko Perkins and Selectmen Aboul Khan, Ed Hess and Ray Smith in their pleas for voters to approve the article at the polls on March 11.

The money, they said, was needed to buy what they feel is vital emergency equipment that will keep Seabrook residents and property safe.

The department has a 1993, 75-foot Quint ladder truck, Strangman and Perkins said. But the Insurance Service Organization that determines the town’s fire insurance rating disregards trucks that are more than 15 years old, Strangman said. If the Quint doesn’t count as a viable firefighting piece of equipment with the ISO, the town’s rating could suffer, he said, resulting in residents and businesses possibly paying more on annual fire insurance premiums.

And if the town doesn’t act soon, Perkins added, the 21-year-old Quint won’t be worth much on the trade-in market to offset the cost of the new ladder.

According to Brown, Seabrook needs a ladder truck because the town continues to attract and approve huge commercial developments, like Home Depot, Lowe’s, Kohl’s and the new half-million-square-foot shopping center currently under construction and set to open this spring that will include a nearly 200,000-square-foot Super Walmart.

With another shopping center about to gain approval, Brown sarcastically suggested the only way to curb the need for more sophisticated firefighting strength might be “to shut off the electricity to Town Hall on Tuesday nights,” when the Planning Board meets to review and approve new developments.

Strangman, Perkins and he have sought federal grants, Brown said, but there is little chance money will result. They’ve approached shopping center developers and local “big box” retailers. Again the answers have been “no,” he said. Since the Planning Board has refused the requests of town department heads to implement impact fees that could help underwrite the capital expenses that growth causes, Brown said, it’s time for the brutal truth.

”There is no golden goose, no pot of gold,” Brown said. “We need the ladder truck because of the growth we’ve had in the past couple of years and (will have in) the next couple of years.”

Ladder trucks help fight large fires, whether they’re in multi-story apartment buildings or in sprawling single-story buildings. They make it safer for firefighters to access the roofs of burning buildings from the exterior, and can be used to reach out over distances to access buildings and/or extract people caught in the blaze.

The ladder would be helpful in ice and flood rescues as well, Sanborn said.

Hess said the number of times it would be used isn’t really the issue. If it saves one life, he said, the investment will be worthwhile.

If approved, the purchase of the ladder truck would add about 7 cents per $1,000 of appraised value to the tax rate this year. In coming years, the installments will be folded into the fire department’s budget, but will also add to the tax rate each year.

Selectmen chose to make this a 5-year lease/purchase instead of stretching repayment over a longer period of time through a bond issuance. The lease/purchase requires a simple majority to gain approval. Floating a bond requires a super majority to pass.

The ladder truck is only one of many questions asking from money. Voters go to the polls at the Community Center from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Tuesday, March 11, to cast their votes on all 41 questions on the warrant.

In addition to the $20.3 million annual budget, there is more than $2.2 million worth in funding requests in the warrant, some requesting more than the ladder, others less.