Department heads lobby council for capital funds
Department heads at a budget workshop March 13 asked the Town Council for more than $5.4 million to make capital improvements in the new fiscal year that starts July 1.
Interim Town Administrator Tina Collins initially recommended $962,000 for capital improvements. That spending package was announced March 3 during a workshop devoted to the operating budget.
But at last week’s session, the department heads had an opportunity to make a pitch for their projects. The councilors so far have voted to re-allocate $250,000 for landscaping at the Fort Getty pavilion. They also indicated they may add back other items pending further discussion, such as the fire department’s request to introduce advanced life support.
Councilor Mary Meagher said the ALS service was “definitely worth looking into,” but Councilor Blake Dickinson questioned why the proposal is coming forward now. It is expected to cost more than $256,000.
“I’m surprised. I’m a little shocked,” he said. “I feel this is being rushed through without being given any thought.”
Deputy Fire Chief Howie Tighe said the issue was not new, and Fire Chief Jim Bryer said the department has been waiting for the council to give the OK.
“We already vetted this out a couple of times,” Tighe said.
Before the fire department and EMS division merged in 2011, the town hired a consultant to assess the situation. According to Tighe, the advisor recommended better organization and certification of advanced life support.
“ALS, ALS,” Tighe said, summing up the consultant’s advice.
At the time, the rescue unit only had six volunteers certified to perform advanced life support, and most of them worked full-time jobs.
“We had to get people trained before we could come down here and put on a big presentation,” Tighe said. “This is the next step.”
“Where would the money come from?” Council President Kristine Trocki asked.
“Taxes,” Collins replied.
Meanwhile, the fire department has upgraded from 32 emergency medical technicians to 53, and now has 27 rescue workers with advanced certification.
Statewide, Jamestown and Block Island are the only two communities with only basic life support, Tighe said.
Collins does not see the request as an “all-or-nothing proposal.” If the councilors opt to go forward, she said, it would still take a few months to complete the paperwork and licensing. She would pro-rate the $175,000 for the supervisor’s pay and also move that line item into the operating budget.
“My issue is really the process,” Dickinson said. “If we have revenues, we can offset this.” However, he has not seen financial data, he explained.
In her draft of the capital budget, Collins recommended $50,000 for improvements to the fire department’s EMS division. The money would go to repair a chassis on one of the rescues.
The other EMS requests the council may now consider are $50,000 for ALS defibrillators and medication kits, $175,720 in perdiem pay for a new supervisor on duty 24/7, and $31,000 for a new car.
Tighe explained the new equipment and medication kits would amount to a one-time expense for fiscal year 2015.
Additional revenues would offset expenses, he said, because patients who need advanced life support are billed at a higher rate. On average, one rescue is dispatched per day. If the number declined, however, then the additional revenues would not materialize, Tighe allowed.
Collins confirmed the billing rate for advanced life support is higher. She estimated Jamestown would earn $210,000 next year by upgrading the service.
“We’re on pace to be around $150,000 this year,” she said.
“We’re already at $99,000,” Tighe said.
The figure, according to Tighe, is partly due to a change in the ambulance company from Comstar to Dawson, which is based in Cranston. The local company has been more responsive to Jamestown’s needs, he said.
Councilor Eugene Mihaly said the higher costs, when compared to higher revenues, amounted to “a wash.”
Dickinson, however, was still concerned. “I would like to have seen the revenues if we are going to talk about this. I realize we are not making a decision tonight. I just want a little more information.”
Although he commended the presentation, Dickinson said he still felt “anxiety” about incurring the expense.
“Well, we’re only BLS,” Tighe quipped.
Meagher sympathized with Dickinson’s concern. “I felt this way last year about capital improvements,” she said.
“With all due respect, I don’t think two hours is enough time for us to make a decision,” Dickinson added.
Meagher said the past practice had been for the town administrator to a give a recommendation after talking with the staff, specifically during Bruce Keiser’s tenure. Collins has used a different approach, and has not recommended projects the council would need to consider.
“Tina is recommending this is a discussion we need to have,” Meagher said.
Tighe also requested $31,000 for a new vehicle to replace the 13-year-old model the ambulance service has been using as the intercept car. It will not pass the state inspection for ALS certification, he said. The plan is to keep the ALS drugs and machines in the intercept car.
“Why?” Mihaly asked.
Tighe said the ambulance service could not bill at the lower basic rate if ALS machines and medications were on board.
Meagher asked for the total number of department cars. Three, Tighe replied. Both he and Bryer have a car, plus the 13-year-old vehicle, which he says has a faulty transmission.
The fire department’s $1 million request to renovate the Narragansett Avenue station was not included in the capital budget. Bryer said the most the department could spend this year for the renovations would be $100,000 for the architectural plans.
Other requests, such as $300,000 for a new fire truck or $540,000 for a custom engine, also await further council discussion. Collins did recommend the department’s $38,000 request for a new Jaws of Life. The old one was destroyed while responding to an accident last month on North Road. Collins also recommended $28,000 for other equipment.
Dickinson asked if the money for the hydraulic rescue device could be recouped from the insurance coverage. Collins said the town is investigating the possibility.
She also recommended shelving an additional $35,000 request to re-shingle the roof at 11 Knowles Court.
The public works department’s bid for $500,000 for new machinery is also not reflected on the bottom line. Collins indicated, however, that the Town Council already allocated money for two dump trucks, a pickup truck with a plow and a chipper.
Also, the councilors will need to discuss spending $200,000 to stabilize the embankment at Bay View Drive, where utilities are located. Collins said the hope had been to apply for federal funds, but the town is not expecting any money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Meagher asked if the damage was related to Hurricane Sandy. Collins said the storm caused some damage, but the problem was not solely due to Sandy.
Mihaly asked about tapping some harbor money to pay for the repairs. Jamestown resident Sav Rebecchi said he remembered the council approved using money from the unreserved fund to pay for the work, but Collins said it was never earmarked for that purpose.
The capital budget also has no allocation for the new building at the golf course. Estimates for the project came in between $2,252,000 and $3.7 million.
Asked after the meeting why the golf course is not listed, Collins said the project was not expected to go forward this fiscal year, although some money might be spent to pay for plans.