The Depew Fire Department is pushing hard for two new pumper trucks, which could cost a little more than $900,000. But despite firefighters’ hard-fought pitch, the mayor is taking a hard-line stance.
Tempers grew a bit heated on both sides of the debate Tuesday during a Village Board work session, when Mayor Steven Hoffman told fire officials that village trustees had to worry about the impact on taxpayers that would result from borrowing to finance new pumpers, as well as the cost of road repairs and recreation upgrades.
“The Fire Department is not going to hold a gun to the Village Board’s head or bully us,” Hoffman said in an interview afterward.
The current pumper trucks are both 30 years old and no longer meet fire safety standards. They have open cabs, which are rarely seen anymore, fire officials said. The Depew Fire Department has six companies with seven trucks, operating out of three fire stations.
“Think out of the box, and put everything on the table,” Hoffman said.
Hoffman became defensive when Assistant Fire Chief Scott Wegst outlined the need for replacing the open-cab pumpers.
The mayor said he’s been waiting for a 10-year strategic plan from the department for three years – information which the department says it gave to the village two years ago, and since provided again to the mayor two months ago.
“I understand we have budget constraints … It always seems we end up on the bottom of the list for three years,” Wegst said.
Fire officials said their request has been denied for years, and that they’ve been pressing to replace the pumpers for nearly a decade, noting that committees had approved their replacement in August of 2006. In the meantime, more than $25,000 has been spent on maintenance repairs on each of the two old pumpers over the last two years, said Ron Maciejewski, a former chief.
“Pumpers … We need’em. There’s no getting around it,” Wegst said. “We’re pushing for replacement of two trucks. We’re going to fight for it.”
The mayor says he inherited “this problem” from past village administrations. “We have an obligation to the taxpayers of Depew, and to have their back,” he said.
Hoffman’s initial response to the department was a challenge right back: “We’ve been waiting for information from you for three years.” Hoffman then quickly added that firefighters should “come to the horse if you want to hear something from the horse’s mouth.”
A few minutes later, the mayor did a bit of a switch, and told fire officials: “We’re in your corner and have been in your corner for three years now.” But he was quick to add, that just because equipment is old, doesn’t mean it’s unsafe.
And so the back-and-forth debate went Tuesday. The mayor afterward insisted he is looking for the fire department to submit a comprehensive strategic plan to cut costs and consolidate operations.
He predicted the preliminary tax increase could be 3.1 percent if the village partly funded the two fire pumper trucks in addition to reconstructing Zurbrick Road, and upgrades in public works and recreation, including the ice rink.