The Williamsport City Council wants to continue using some of the nearly $25.5 million in US bailout funds for critical-needs projects such as the Bureau of Fire Services.
Among those shared on Thursday were about $150,000 in personal protective equipment (PPE) for firefighters and larger costs for three fire trucks, to include two pumpers and an aerial or ladder truck.
The PPE is life-saving equipment for them and some of them are 10 years old or older, the office of city fire chief Sam Aungst said.
Additionally, Aungst is seeking to use funds for the cost of two pump motors and an aerial or ladder truck estimated at $3.2 million.
A single 2006 engine had $63,000 in maintenance repair needs last year. says Aungst.
He told council he was following a plan from former city fire chief Mark Killian and a department fire committee.
The plan has various funding formulas, using ARPA’s $3.2 million or a combination of various formulas, adding a municipal lease and federal bailout funds. In December, the Council approved expenditures of up to $3.2 million for the device. However, some final details need to be ironed out after it was revealed that the latest contract proposal had different payment terms to those presented two months ago.
This payment was 60 days before delivery and gave the city 18 months. The most recent proposal is payment due within 60 days of signing the contract and that has raised eyebrows for the board’s consensus.
Following the council meeting, the administration agreed to find out how to proceed with lawyers.
“We authorized a contract to lock in prices based on payment terms,” Council Chairman Adam Yoder said.
Yoder then led a conversation focused on this difference and how it might be resolved.
Councilor Liz Miele, chair of the finance committee, expressed how concerned she was that the administration would proceed with the purchase of fire trucks without discussing the various payment terms.
Miele took a closer look at what was happening in front of the board.
“It’s a different truck manufacturer and a different schedule for cost savings,” she said.
Aungst said the new fire administration needs to make a quick decision in making sure the city gets the “the best value for money” and that by using the full amount of salvage funds, there would be funds available in the budget to make repairs to the fire station and its facilities without burdening the city with significant debt from truck financing. In addition, the given price was going to increase from the beginning of February.
However, City Solicitor Norman Lubin said the contract that was before council was unauthorized and could essentially be called by council null and void.
Miele said what made sense to him was for the department to calculate the number of uses of 25%, 50% or all of the salvage funds on trucks. Aungst said that would be fine, but reminded the board that the bank funding a loan charged 17-24% interest over the life of the loan. He also said financial institutions had requested the city’s audits for 2019 and 2020, which have not been completed.
Miele said the board did not understand that the fire administration wanted to withdraw the entire $3.2 million from ARPA.
Miele said she understands the fire administration’s new position, but said she would feel more comfortable seeing a breakdown of what the cost would be if the city funded $2 million and used approximately $1 million from ARPA and showed the impact on the city’s general fund account over the next five years.
That way, Miele said, if the fire station needs $200,000 in repairs and the administration tells the council they’ll need $240,000, they won’t. “scream and shout.”
Providing the budget numbers over the next five years will help the council, Miele said.
Buying trucks outright doesn’t seem possible, but buying personal protective equipment with ARPA funds and using some of the ARPA on trucks is, Miele said.
Additionally, she said, it would be wise for the council to understand the financial implications and contractual obligations regarding the fire truck contract.
New councilor Eric Beiter asked Aungst what the possible consequences would be if the council did not approve this contract.
“It would delay the receipt of the trucks and the city will continue to pay engine maintenance costs of over $63,000,” he added. he said. “If the payment exceeds 60 days, the amount increases from $200,000 to $250,000”, he said.
Aungst agreed to obtain the financial cost analysis from the board.
It was decided that the cleanest way to handle this, legally, was to present another contract to the board in two weeks.