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Easthampton City Council OKs borrowing to buy ambulance, dump truck

For an hour Wednesday night the City Council debated borrowing $290,000 to buy a dump truck and ambulance, ultimately supporting it with exactly the two-thirds majority that borrowing votes require.

Mayor Michael A. Tautznik said the city has borrowed funds for construction projects, with voter approval, and to fix short-term “cash flow issues” until funds come in, but this is the first time he’s suggested borrowing to cross items off the city’s capital plan.

He said he proposed it because both vehicles were critical purchases and interest rates are very low. Finance Director Melissa Zawadzki said the rate is expected to be 0.38 percent at least for the first year. “This is the cheapest, best way,” Tautznik said.

The total price tag for the vehicles is expected to be about $422,838. The ambulance, to be equipped with a cardiac monitor, is estimated to cost $225,395, while the dump truck with a sander and plow will cost about $197,443. The city will pay $132,838 from the ambulance fund and free cash, leaving $290,000 to borrow.

Zawadzki said she expects the city will be able to pay off the debt in about three years and can do so earlier. It will have no effect on the city’s tax rate.

Councilors Justin P. Cobb, Joy E. Winnie, Salem Derby, Daniel D. Rist, Nathaniel P. Ziegler and Joseph P. McCoy voted in favor, and councilors Daniel C. Hagan, Donald L. Cykowski and Chester A. Ogulewicz Jr. voted against it.

Fire Chief David A. Mottor said the department has three ambulances. The oldest, a 1996 model, is in need of repairs and will not pass inspection this summer without at least $1,500 worth of repairs, he said. If it breaks down or can’t pass inspection, it will cost the city potential ambulance fees and may mean residents have to wait for an ambulance from Northampton to respond if the other two ambulances are in use.

Mottor, also the city’s emergency management director, said the importance of getting a new plow and sander truck to replace a “dead” one and get the fleet back up to five was never more obvious than in the February snowstorm that dumped more than 20 inches of snow on the city. He said sanders have a lot of moving parts and break down frequently during storms, so the city needs to have enough working vehicles. Two or three sanders broke down during the February storm, he said.

“It’s not only a DPW nightmare, but a public safety issue,” he said, adding it was lucky there were no fire or ambulance calls while the roads were impassable.

Hagan said that while he didn’t dispute the need for the vehicles, he did not agree with the funding method.

“To me it’s the same as going out with a credit card: buy now, pay later,” he said. “I think it sets a bad precedent.”

He also said the city has more available free cash it could put toward at least one of the purchases instead of borrowing.

Cykowski called it a “slippery slope” and said he’d like to see “everyone getting together to come up with a better way to fund it.”

Rist said borrowing was better than the alternatives — leasing the equipment at higher interest rates or waiting for the city to have enough money.

“Bonding authorization allows the purchase now, since both the truck and ambulance will take months to get delivered,” he said.

Rebecca Everett can be reached at reverett@gazettenet.com.

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