Friday, June 01, 2012
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Debate continues on a vehicle for city fire chief

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[June 01, 2012]  This week aldermen of the Lincoln City Council continued their debate on whether to purchase a vehicle as a daily driver for fire Chief Mark Miller, and if so, what.

The topic came up in February when Miller told the council the transmission was going out of the 1999 Ford Crown Victoria he drives when on duty.

Because of the age and mileage of the car, repairing or replacing the transmission was going to cost quite a bit more than the car was worth, so Miller asked permission to go out for bid on something else.

He said he wanted to go along the same line as the city police department and purchase a good used SUV.

For the city, this came about at the wrong time to actually do anything about it. The end of the fiscal year was drawing near, and there was no room in the remaining few months of the budget to purchase even a used vehicle. The request to go out for bid was granted, but it was stipulated nothing would be done before the new fiscal year began in May.

Bids were received from Graue Chevrolet and Lincoln Chrysler Dodge & Jeep. The item went on the agenda for the first voting session in May but failed to pass in an unusual vote where a clear majority could not be determined.

On May 15 Alderwoman Kathy Horn, who chairs the committee for the fire department, reintroduced the subject for discussion during the committee of the whole meeting. Aldermen tossed the issue back and forth, but at the end of the night there was no clear indication as to how they might vote on the purchase.

On May 21 the item was on the voting agenda but Horn tabled it, saying new questions had arisen and she wanted to go through another discussion at the next workshop meeting.

At this week's committee of the whole meeting, Horn turned the topic over to Miller to field questions from aldermen.

The first person to speak up was Alderwoman Marty Neitzel, who voiced an objection to purchasing a two-wheel-drive SUV over a four-wheel drive. She said she felt that if the city was going to invest that kind of money, approximately $23,000 on a vehicle, it should be a four-wheel drive.

Miller said if that was what the council wanted, he would comply. He noted that the current bid package had specified two-wheel drive and a new bid might have to be sought if this is changed.

Alderman Buzz Busby, who was back in chambers after a long absence, wondered if the city should be looking at a larger truck instead of an SUV.

The request for an SUV stemmed from the need of the department to have a vehicle that would hold a good amount of payload and be able to tow trailers.

Busby noted that right now the city department's ladder truck is being used for medical emergency calls. He wondered if a truck could answer the needs for a towing vehicle plus be used on medical emergency calls.

Alderwoman Melody Anderson, whose biggest worry for the city is always finances and expenditures, commented on the purchase as well. She noted that in the course of a year, the times the four-wheel-drive feature would be needed were not all that many. On the other hand, the four-wheel-drive vehicle will use more gas. She reminded the council the city had issues this past year with having enough money to pay for fuel as it was. She concluded that she didn't think the benefit outweighed the cost and that a four-wheel drive wasn't needed.

Alderman David Wilmert brought up another issue in the fire department: a pump truck with a leaking water tank. He said that considering the city had a fire truck that can't hold water, he wondered if the chief's vehicle should be purchased at all. Perhaps that money should be invested in repairing the actual firefighting vehicle.

Miller said that particular vehicle has been placed in "reserve." He said the pump on the truck works fine and can be used in that manner. He also noted it takes about four hours for the water tank to leak out its full load.

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He would later explain the truck in question was a 1991 model that came with a steel tank. That tank had rusted out and been replaced with a less expensive poly tank four years ago. That tank lasted three years, and last year $2,000 was spent on repairing it. Now it is broken again and this time is not repairable.

To replace the tank would be very costly, he said, because it is custom-designed for the engine.

Mayor Keith Snyder also noted Miller has applied for a zero-interest loan, and if he receives it, the city may be in a position to replace the entire truck.

Miller said he is keeping an eye out for a replacement apparatus. He told the council that a good used model will cost the city around $250,000, and new would run in the range of approximately $400,000.

Alderman Jeff Hoinacki said he was in agreement with Wilmert that the firefighting equipment should take priority.

He also recalled that a few years ago the city was in the same bad financial position when the street and alley superintendent needed a new vehicle. He noted the superintendent was told to find something to get by and keep the cost under $10,000.

Alderwoman Stacy Bacon also weighed in, saying she agreed with Wilmert and Hoinacki. She didn't believe the city could afford to spend that much money just for the chief to have a vehicle to drive back and forth to work.

Bacon suggested a new solution to the problem. The city now owns a full-size pickup truck. With the need to have space for cargo being a big issue, she suggested the city could purchase a topper for the pickup and use it to tow as well as transport extra equipment.

Miller said that was a solution that could be looked into further if the council wished.

Alderwoman Jonie Tibbs, however, had a slightly different opinion. The pickup truck in question is currently used by on-duty firefighters for certain emergency calls. She said Miller needed a vehicle of his own. She noted that no one knows what is going to happen in the middle of the night or what the day will bring when we wake up. She said she knew the chief used that car at fire scenes, and it was a necessary part of his job.

She also noted that other department heads are provided a vehicle by the city, and she felt the fire chief should not be excluded from this.

Neitzel brought the conversation back around to the specific vehicle the chief would like to purchase: a used 2008 Chevrolet Tahoe.

She said the bid packet had specified a mid-sized SUV and a Tahoe was not a mid-size. Miller explained the Tahoe was the vehicle that met the towing requirement of 7,000 pounds stated in the bid packet.

As the discussions came to a close, it was still not clear if aldermen are prepared to vote on this purchase. The item is currently tabled on the agenda and may or may not be included in next week's voting session.


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