NEWTON, NJ – The fire department is not going to get all it wants in the 2013 budget which is set to be introduced on Monday, Feb. 25.

At the second budget hearing on Thursday, Feb. 21, deputy mayor Joseph Ricciardo asked deputy chief Derek Wechtler if the department really needs to replace a fire truck. The department asked for $450,000 to replace an engine. Ricciardo reminded him the council wanted to start a program of refurbishing fire trucks rather than replacing them.

Wechtler said refurbishing the truck would cost $240,000 and lower the eventual resale value of the truck.

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“I don’t know if we can continue to buy trucks every other year,” Ricciardo said.

Wechtler said the truck is a 1999 and there is a 20-item list of needed repairs.

Ricciardo said bigger towns than Newton refurbish their trucks and used them for many years.

Town Manager Thomas S. Russo, Jr. said, “We need to start now to rein in spending.”

Council directed Russo to take the line item for a new truck out of the capital budget and the council will explore refurbishing. Councilman Kevin Elvidge pointed out during the period the fire truck is being refurbished the department will have to either arrange for coverage from a neighboring municipality or rent a vehicle.

The fire department also requested a new incident command vehicle. The SUV is 11 years old with 75,000 miles and 5,000 hours. Russo said the purchase can be delayed for a year.

Wechtler said the mechanic said the truck was in decent shape although it has had electrical problems. Councilman Daniel Flynn said another municipality will buy it and “keep it on the road for another decade.”

One vehicle that will be replaced is the senior citizens shuttle bus. A new bus may cost as much as $200,000 but the town spent one-tenth of that on repairs this year CFO Dawn Babcock said. She said the bus was towed twice and the driver had to use his personal car to drive seniors home. Many of the problems were minor, but the bus blew a head gasket twice.

Flynn noted the bus has basically a pick-up truck engine for a 21-passenger bus.

The town is shopping for a more appropriate vehicle, but Ricciardo noted the equipment to meet handicapped-vehicle specifications will make it very expensive.

Also cut from the capital budget was $147, 000 for the town’s share of a joint fiber-optic project with the school district. Russo said the school may go ahead with the project and the town should be able to piggy-back on it later.

A $70,000 capital line item will be added to $180,000 already set aside for the refurbishment of the fire museum.

Ricciardo pointed out all of the layers of brick in the old building are probably damaged. He said it could cost more to repair it than tear down all but the historic façade and build a pre-fab building on the back.

Should the building be restored, it could be used for more than a museum open only a few days a year. The second floor could be used for office space, including the satellite police station council has often mentioned as a good idea for Spring Street.

Council also went over recreation and other capital projects in preparation for the introduction on Monday at 7 p.m.


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