The council voted 4-1 to purchase a new, 2010 model fire engine for use by the Woodstock Fire Department, with Councilwoman Liz Baxter opposed and Councilman Chris Casdia absent.
City Manager Jeff Moon explained the Woodstock Fire Department was using its only backup fire engine after discovering significant cracks in the frame and body of engine No. 14.
Moon said he considered the lack of a backup truck “an emergency,” because if any other firetruck were to have problems and go out of service, the department would be operating with less ability to respond to emergencies.
Moon also said the normal life of a fire engine is about 10 years, and the last new truck for the department was purchased in 2003 and nearing the end of its life. The damaged firetruck was purchased in 1996.
“Our recommendation is to go ahead and purchase a replacement truck,” Moon said Monday. “Then we can put the reserve (truck) back in reserve.”
Woodstock Fire Chief Dave Soumas said the reserve truck is fully functioning and brought out for use when storms or other emergency situations threaten the community.
“Not only on breakdowns, but in heavy storms, or when we foresee things happening, we call people in and they get on this extra truck that’s equipped and ready to go,” Soumas said. “When we have a lot of calls… we bring trucks like that in for service.”
The existing truck will be traded in for its scrap value of $7,000, which will be used toward the cost of the new truck that is expected to cost $396,856.
Moon said there is undesignated money in the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax fund, which could cover the cost of the new fire truck without depleting the SPLOST reserves.
“We can’t use it the way it is, even as a reserve,” Moon said of the broken fire engine. “We finished last year with $849,000 in the SPLOST reserves … for the current year budget we budgeted, council approved, spending $309,000 of that on capital outlay during the current fiscal year, which leaves $540,000 available of unbudgeted, undesignated SPLOST funds.”
The fire department was budgeted to purchase a new fire engine in the 2015 fiscal year, which begins in less than a year, and Councilwoman Tessa Bassford said this was why the SPLOST reserves existed, to cover the cost of unexpected expenses like public safety equipment.
“(Fiscal 2015) is less than a year from now anyways, it sounds like it’s two years out, it’s not actually two years out,” Bassford said. “I think this is why we have the money in SPLOST reserves. It’s one of the responsible things we’ve done to set it aside and have it, because you can’t foresee when something like this will happen, and it seems very reasonable to me to back it up and do it now.”
Councilman Bud Leonard said he agreed the city needed to purchase a new fire engine.
“One of my major concerns is public safety, and I think this is a step in the right direction,” Leonard said.
Councilman Randy Brewer asked if there were any less expensive options, and then said he knew if the amount requested were approved, the city officials would continue searching for the best-cost option.
“I agree with you on (getting) a new truck. I’m sure you guys will look at every option,” Brewer said.
Moon said the body on the fire engine the city was looking at purchasing had a 2010 model body, but was new and had not been used for service.
Brewer made the motion to approve purchasing a new fire truck to replace engine No. 14, and Bassford seconded the motion. The council voted 4-1, with Baxter opposed.
Baxter had voiced concern about the high cost for a new truck and said she didn’t disagree with the need, but thought there should be more time to review the cost before approving it.
“This is so much money and we have a scheduled council meeting next Monday,” Baxter said.
Bassford said that there are so many calls to the fire department, that running for another week on a reserve truck seemed like too much to her.
Possible Chambers at City Center expansion
The council also approved the city attorney to work with Premier Energy, a Woodstock-based company, to create a contract with specific details for the council to consider for a possible expansion of Chambers of City Center into a multi-purpose building.
Moon said for about six months, city officials had been talking to Premier Energy about a possible public-private partnership to build a shared building connected to the Chambers at City Center, where the council holds its meetings.
The possible future addition, which would have to be approved by the city council, would include space for the Downtown Development Authority offices and the Woodstock Visitors Center.
Moon explained that the DDA and Visitors Center were operating out of rented buildings, and said this would allow for public restrooms to be added on the first floor.
The minimum requirements discussed between the city officials and Woodstock-based company were that the expanded building be at least three stories high and at most four stories, totaling at least 8,580 square feet per floor, a minimum of 5,580 and a maximum of 7,000 square feet for restaurant retail space, a minimum of 15,160 square feet of office space, a minimum of 2,000 square feet of city office space for the DDA offices, a minimum of 3,000 square feet for a city lobby Visitors Center on the first floor and a contract requirement that the company create at least 30 jobs.
The city would contribute the site. The new building would be situated between the Chambers building and the space that Elm Street currently uses, and would run parallel to the council chambers, Moon said.
Moon said a lot of details still needed to be worked out, and the council’s approval would allow the city attorney to work out the details before presenting the contract to council for a vote.
The council voted 5-0 to allow the attorney to move forward with drafting a contract for the potential expansion and partnership with Premier Energy.