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Selectmen pursue lease on new fire truck

May 16, 2012
Selectmen voted Wednesday, May 9 to bypass the lengthy petitioning process for a sepcial town meeting on a municipal bond for a new fire truck by opting to pursue a lease agreement instead.

Selectman Kevin Hayes made the motion to seek authorization from voters to appropriate funds for the new truck to replace the 1987 Ranger, or Engine Four, which was deemed a road hazard after Fire Department officials sent it to Lakes Region Fire Apparatus for pump repairs. The remaining selectmen approved the motion, as it allowed for the earliest date for a vote, bypassing the lengthy petitioning process.

According to Town Administrator Scott Dunn, the estimated payments for the bond and the lease were comparable, around $52,000 per year; though the selectmen would be responsible for negotiating the lease agreement.

Hayes's motion included a commitment to the lease without an escape clause, by which voters could discontinue the lease at the annual town meeting and return the truck to the leasing company. According to Dunn, without the escape clause, the article will need 60 percent approval to pass.

Chairman Gus Benavides was concerned that with an escape clause, voters might decide against continuing the lease, for example, four years from now. While the selectmen said they think voters will recognize the need for the new apparatus, they felt vulnerable in view of the fact that the lease could be voted down years from now.

"It would be like an expensive rental" if voters eventually turned down the lease a few years down the road, said Selectman John O'Brien. "I feel voters know the importance. I don't think 60 percent will be an issue."

Dunn reminded the selectmen that as with any warrant article, the request for a lease agreement can be amended at the deliberative session if voters decide they would prefer to see an escape clause, or if they are unsatisfied with the terms.

Hayes also wanted to look into using money from the undesignated, or surplus, fund, which Dunn said they usually draw from to offset the tax rate, essentially loaning money to themselves at no interest.

Finance Director Geoff Ruggles said he did not think drawing money from the fund for lease payments would be a problem, but it would leave the balance fairly low. Ruggles said he would have to go over the numbers, but he thought it would be an option.

With Engine Four taken off the road, firefighters have been left with one attack truck, Engine Two, in service, and no reserve apparatus. According to Fire Chief Steve Carrier, the department has requested an additional truck from Lakes Region Mutual Aid for their typical two-engine calls. Additionally, Carrier said they can borrow a fire engine from the Laconia Fire Department if Engine Two is out of service.

The selectmen will host a public hearing on the warrant article for a lease agreement at their regular meeting Wednesday, May 23 at 7 p.m. The Budget Committee will host a public hearing the following night, also at 7 p.m. in the Town Hall conference room.

According to Dunn, town officials hope to host the Deliberative Session in June, but would then have to wait 28 days, as required by state law, before holding the final vote.

Martin Lord Osman
Salmon Press
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