The City Council rejected a request by Fire Chief Ron Samul and Mayor Daryl Finizio for emergency funds to repair three fire department vehicles after councilors questioned the requested source of the money.
Tuesday's council vote to approve the ordinance for emergency funds failed 3-4. The item, added to the agenda prior to the start of the meeting, requested that $75,000 be transferred from the fund balance to a mechanical maintenance line item of the Department of Public Works budget.
Samul said two fire engines and one ladder truck are currently out of service. He said a 1992 ladder truck has been leaking oil, while a 2001 engine has a water leak contaminating both its fuel tank and onboard generator. Samul said the newest vehicle, a 2011 engine, suffered a shattered water pump while responding to a call on Tuesday morning.
The loss of the vehicles has a significant effect on the New London Fire Department’s vehicle pool. At full strength, New London has one fire engine and one ambulance at each of its three stations as well as ladder trucks at the North Station and South Station.
“I agree that the work needs to be done, and it needs to be done quickly,” said Council President Michael Passero.
However, Passero said he disagreed with the request to take money from the general fund given concerns over a projected deficit in the 2012 fiscal year budget and the amount of money that may be taken from the general fund as a result. Passero also said there is enough money in the mechanical maintenance line item to fund the repairs, saying about $212,000 remains of the approximately $780,000 budgeted.
Councilor Adam Sprecace said the state of the 2012 budget remains uncertain, and that the funding in the Public Works budget will ensure that the repairs are made. He said a decision on whether funds need to be taken from the general fund as a result of the unanticipated repairs should be made at a future date.
“I refuse to be accused of not favoring public safety as a result of this ‘no’ vote,” said Sprecace.
Passero criticized Finizio, saying he was irked that the mayor brought the matter before the council with little time to review the matter.
“I’m not happy being played like this,” said Passero. “I think this is a cynical ploy to get us to increase the budget ordinance that was passed last year, and I can’t be a part of it.”
Samul said the repairs have been delayed prior to the latest breakdown as the department analyzes its budget. He said the late notice to the council was due to the second engine trouble occurring earlier on the same day as the meeting. Jane Glover, Finizio’s chief administrative officer, said the administration sought to bring the issue to the council’s attention as well as the concern that the maintenance line item would exceed its budget due to the unplanned expenditure.
“The administration did not want to run a deficit…This is clearly an emergency from the city’s point of view,” said Glover.
Timothy Hanser, director of Public Works, said on Wednesday that he disputed the assertion that there is adequate money for the repairs in the maintenance line item, which is used for repairs and upkeep of all city vehicles. He said information provided to the councilors shows that about $56,000 remains in the fund for the remainder of the year and that the department did not want to run a deficit there.
"Those three [trucks] alone would put us into the red without any other repairs for the rest of the year," said Hanser.
Hanser said he will speak with Finizio and Samul on how the repairs can be funded.
Councilor Anthony Nolan questioned whether other fire department spending could be put on hold in order to fund the repairs. Samul replied that there are not sufficient funds remaining in the budget amid several mandatory expenditures such as ladder testing.
Councilor John Maynard said he thought the repairs should be funded from the line item if the funding is available, but was concerned with the effect on public safety if the ordinance was rejected with no contingency in place. Passero said that since the ordinance is directed by the mayor’s office, the council could not amend it and could only add non-binding language urging the use of line item funds rather than money from the general fund.
Passero, Sprecace, and Councilors Marie Friess-McSparran and Donald Macrino opposed the ordinance. Councilors Maynard and Nolan, along with Council President Pro Tempore Wade Hyslop, were in favor.
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