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New hearing scheduled on fire dept. tanker replacement

Freedom selectmen discouraged at low turnout on first public hearing

December 01, 2011
FREEDOM — "These funds have been authorized over the years by town meeting. We are now at the point where we are going to lose money if we don't spend money," Freedom Selectman Scott Cunningham told a small crowd gathered at a public hearing last Monday night, Nov. 28.

The hearing was advertised by posting a notice on the town's Web site, posting notices at a few key places in town, and by word of mouth as "to discuss the purchase of a new tank truck for the fire department." At least one selectman said he expected to see a roomful of people interested in the issue. Eight people came to the hearing – and most of them came early and heard all the information before the hearing started.

At issue is the town's 1985 gas-powered, top heavy, 1,500 gallon tanker truck that pumps about 250 gallons of water per minute. According to the town's master plan, the truck was supposed to have been replaced in 2005. Fire Chief Gene Doe said that while he realizes it is an expensive purchase and is very grateful to the voters for approving an addition on the fire station at the 2011 town meeting, it is time to replace the truck. The tank is rusting out, he said, and due to its poor handling, several of the fire department members refuse to drive it because it is unsafe.

Cunningham, whose house was destroyed in a suspicious fire earlier this year, said though Freedom has few house fires annually, it is important to think about the possibility of a forest fire in the Pine Barrens getting out of control as well.

Selectmen had charged Doe with the task of searching out the right tanker truck to replace the current one. He explained at the hearing that he has found a demo truck in the Midwest for about $200,000 that will carry 3,000 gallons of water and pump that water at 1,000 gallons per minute.

The purchase was not on the 2011 Town Meeting warrant. The reason for the public hearing was to gauge the public's opinion on whether or not the board should purchase the truck before a 2012 Town Meeting vote.

Cunningham, who admitted he prefers the Town Meeting way of doing business, said the urgency is that if the board waits, they may lose the opportunity to purchase the truck at the better price. "More people should be here and be interested in spending $200,000," said Cunningham. Most of those who attended said they were in favor of selectmen taking advantage of the deal now rather than waiting until March.

There was both a sense of urgency at the hearing as well as disappointment at lack of public interest. Doe said he had priced the truck at another manufacturer and had gotten a quote of about $300,000-$350,000.

"I looked at this hearing as an opportunity to save the taxpayers $150,000," said Selectman Les Babb. Some at the hearing urged the board to go ahead and buy the truck. "If you have a definite need I say buy it. The price seems to be right. It wouldn't bang the tax rate very much," said resident Paul Hogan.

Babb said he appreciates those who attended the hearing, but as far as he is concerned the matter can just wait until March and he is not willing to make such a purchase without more public input and support.

Selectman Neal Boyle, Cunningham, and Babb all said they are in favor of and understand the need for a new truck. Currently there is about $160,000 in a fire department capital reserve fund and, at least preliminarily, the board is considering using most of that fund to pay for the truck with the balance to be paid out on a lease purchase agreement.

At the urging of the audience, selectmen agreed to try another public hearing and are hoping for a much better turnout. The second hearing will be Dec. 12 at 7:30 p.m. at Freedom Town Hall.

Salmon Press
Martin Lord Osman
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