Next month, we will sign a contract for the purchase of a new fire truck. The reason is very simple: if we don’t do it now, we can expect to pay 20 % more (NFPA standards) next year for the same truck and another 20% in 2010 (emissions standards). More than likely, you can add another 7% for increased material costs as well.
Our budget this year will be $87,000. The truck that we are purchasing will be a triple threat. It will have four-wheel drive, a bumper mounted monitor, rescue sides, foam, a 650 gallon water tank and on board generator. It will be a Class A pumper. Price will be $300,000!
Because our newest engine is a 1998, we will not qualify for a FIRE Act grant. Believe me, we have tried and gave up two years ago. In Illinois, we have a Zero Interest Fire Truck Loan program. More than likely, we will be “too well off” to qualify for that. So, we will either finance through the apparatus builder or the local bank, depending on interest rates. We will probably go with the local bank, though.
How do we afford it? How can we afford not to? If we do it now, we will be able to meet payments while bumping up our tax rate 4.99% per year. That way, we don’t have to have a Truth in Taxation hearing or request a referendum to raise taxes. We have two fundraisers each year, so we can still purchase necessary replacements for PPE and loose equipment. We can even hold some money back for new truck purchase. We have been fortunate to obtain grants for new SCBAs, turnout gear and a new thermal imaging camera. We also charge for services to out-of-district users.
We have no secret for purchasing during these hard economic times. We have always watched our funds very carefully, made every dollar count and have provided our fire district with outstanding volunteer fire and rescue services. We prepare a five year plan, stick to it and have the public’s support. With this new truck purchase, we will retire a 1969 unit. We have one, outstanding loan on the rescue truck, but we own everything else, including the building.
Debt can be a killer! When I was chief of the department, we were told that we didn’t have any money, but we didn’t have any equipment either. It left one to scratch one’s head!
In summary, you have to look five years down the road, plan for purchases foreseen and unforeseen, avoid debt by “living within your means”, take advantage of discounts by group purchasing, apply for the grants that are out there, bump the tax rate to the maximum that the laws allow and charge non-residents.
We have to think like a taxpayer. Come to think of it, we are!