LENOX — Voters at an upcoming special town meeting will be asked to approve funding for major repairs on the Fire Department's ladder truck, which was found during routine maintenance to have severe corrosion.
The cost of the project is estimated at up to $350,000, Deputy Fire Chief Chris O'Brien told the Selectboard recently. The truck has been sidelined since October, requiring the town to rely on mutual aid from Pittsfield or Great Barrington in case a ladder is needed.
Although the ailing truck is 20 years old, the repair is expected to give it up to 10 more years of life, O'Brien said.
The cost to replace the "severely damaged" steel frame will not increase taxes nor will it disrupt longer-range capital improvement needs, Town Manager Christopher Ketchen said.
He noted that voters at last May's annual town meeting already had appropriated $650,000 for the purchase of a new engine for one of its pumper trucks.
Based on meetings with department staff, consultants and the town's Capital Improvement Committee, the town manager proposed diverting $350,000 from the funds set aside for the pumper truck project in order to repair the ladder truck. In addition, the plan calls for advancing $175,000 from "free cash" into the pumper truck fund.
O'Brien said the pumper can likely last at least another year, so town meeting voters could be asked in 2017 to approve $125,000 more to bring the pumper repair fund back up to $650,000.
The Selectboard voted 4-0 to support the ladder truck proposal and bring it to voters at the special town meeting scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 5, at the Town Hall auditorium.
If voters approve the fund transfers, the project would "bring the ladder truck back into service as soon as possible, it does not raise taxes and it does not in any way disrupt the overall capital improvement plan," Ketchen said.
O'Brien said that during last October's routine maintenance, a "substantial deficiency" was found with the frame caused by corrosion. In the view of several contractors who viewed the truck, he said, "it isn't driveable and you shouldn't have been using it to begin with."
"This threw everybody for a loop," O'Brien said. "Nobody was as shocked as we were."
A fire apparatus contractor, Colden Enterprises, in Tonawanda, N.Y., supplied the $350,000 estimate for the three-month repair job after examining the equipment.
The project is complicated by space restrictions at the central fire station, O'Brien noted, thus requiring a "labor-intensive" repair. The only other option, the deputy chief learned, would be to scrap the truck, which would yield only about $30,000 for the town. A new ladder truck likely would cost close to $1 million, he said.
"We're at the fork in the road," O'Brien said. "Do we move forward with the contract, pursue this, and hopefully everything works out and we get another 10 years out of it, which is a very good time frame and we'll see where we are then."
"I think it's the best option available to us," said Selectman David Roche. "Selling it for $30,000 worth of scrap and then putting $1 million into a new truck right now does not necessarily meet our needs. This is a good truck other than the frame, I've been told by everybody, to me it makes a lot of sense to go ahead and repair it."
Selectboard Chairman Edward Lane agreed. "Nobody saw this coming, so we're just trying to make the best of the situation right now."
Ketchen stressed that "since the ladder truck went down so severely, we need to reprioritize, to go back to town meeting and ask them to use the funds they appropriated, thinking we would buy a pumper, for a repair. ... This is the most transparent, legally sufficient thing to do."
Contact Clarence Fanto at 413-637-2551.