Fire department budget focus of board discussion

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MANCHESTER — The Manchester Select Board made it quite clear at its first regular meeting of the new year Tuesday evening that the town volunteer fire department is supported.

Then the board got down to work trying to find ways to back up those words with action as discussion on the fiscal year 2020 budget continued.

Vice Chairman Wayne Bell, who ran the meeting with board chairman Ivan Beattie out ill, started the budget discussions with the fire department.

"(The department) is one of the most extraordinary and valuable assets in this community," Bell said as he introduced the topic. "We're pleased to fully support them financially and however we can. The question is just about how we're going to do that. We're looking at different ways to accommodate their needs."

Town Manager John O'Keefe backed up that assessment.

"The current budget fully funds all their capital requests," O'Keefe said. "The real question is where that money comes from. The question is how we're funding it."

Board member Steven Nichols questioned a couple aspects of the budget, saying, "I don't want to short them."

O'Keefe pointed out the fire department budget is up "about 30 percent," which is the largest year-to-year increase proposed for any town department.

Bell said the fire department leadership had recently conducted a review of its operation and a re-evaluation of its needs and planning for the future.

That leadership, including Chief Chris Towslee, First Assistant Chief Bill Beideman, and Second Assistant Chief Jamie Greene, presented their list to the board at a budget workshop last month.

One of the topics of discussion Tuesday was how best to plan for the purchase of a new truck for the department.

The town has a reserve fund with $180,000 in it now and the plans are to put another $60,000 to $75,000 in as part of the current year budget.

"That's still not enough to buy a truck," O'Keefe said. "The last truck we bought was $450,000."

O'Keefe also suggested the board consider the option of potentially making a fire truck part of the bonding process where it could be added to other large ticket items down the road.

"If we choose to go to a bond, some of the fire truck cost could be put into that bond," O'Keefe said.

Nichols also presented another option to potentially purchase the truck through a lease-to-own type option.

O'Keefe said it was an option and the town has purchased a few other big-ticket items that way.

"We have a few of those agreements already," O'Keefe said. "With today's interest rates we're not paying much."

In the end, no firm decisions were made, but Bell said the board planned to do what it could for the fire department.

"We're going to fund (the department) one way or another," Bell said. "We're not going to leave the fire department wanting."

In other business, the board voted to assign two funds to be managed by the Investment Advisory Committee. The Reappraisal Reserve Fund and Parking Mitigation Funds were recommended to be placed under the IAC for management.

"We found two orphan funds that had not been assigned to the Investment Advisory Committee," O'Keefe said. "We think the Select Board should put these in the IAC."

The RRF gets about $25,000 per year from the state to be used for a reappraisal when one will be required, which is likely still a few years away.

"Each year we get this money and each year we put it aside," O'Keefe said.

The RRF has $235,000 now.

The Parking Mitigation Fund currently has $34,000 and would be used when a parking issue needs to be funded.

Town treasurer Brian Vogel agreed it would be a good move the funds and the board approved the measure unanimously.

The board also approved renewals of vending licenses for Hound Dogs and Nan Z Carts and Catering.

Contact Darren Marcy at dmarcy@manchesterjournal.com or by cell at 802-681-6534.

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