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PIERCE CITY, Mo. (AP) - There's little that Mark Peters, mayor
of this tornado-ravaged town, isn't worried about these days.
Downtown lies in rubble. Phones are still out. Few businesses are
left to generate tax revenues for recovery.
Now Peters adds this worry: Pierce City cannot cover payments on
its main fire truck.
"I'm not sure the repo man will come tow the fire truck away,
but we need a financial angel - or a whole bunch of angels," the
mayor said Monday.
Almost three years ago, city voters overwhelmingly approved
selling bonds to raise the $146,000 cost of a new pumper, which
replaced a 1965 fire truck. The city needs about $24,000 a year
through 2010 to pay for the truck, and sales tax receipts were
being used to make the payments.
The truck's arrival made a bottom-line difference in Pierce
City; the improved fire protection reduced homeowners' insurance
premiums by hundreds of dollars per year.
A federal grant could rebuild the flattened firehouse - the new
truck was out with its siren blaring May 4 to alert townspeople
about the tornado bearing down on Pierce City - but city officials
say they've been told there is no outside government money to cover
bond payments on a rig that's still rolling.
Bond owners aren't looking for the truck keys, at least not yet.
But Peters said the bond deal obligates the city to tap whatever
resources it has to repay them. This as it rebuilds a water and
sewer system, replaces toppled street lights and tallies
still-uncounted costs of cleaning up.
A city fund to accept donations for a fire truck bailout has
already collected about $2,600, said City Clerk Julie Johnson.
Students from Exeter - about 15 miles away and not covered by
the department's protection - delivered $400 raised in their town.
Other smaller donations have arrived from as far away as New York
Lucy McCauley, 69, whose home was destroyed by the tornado, was
among Pierce City's voters who supported buying the truck, and she
fretted Monday about how the community would make the payments.
"When that big red truck arrived, we were so proud, and we felt
so secure. If any place needs to hold onto something that makes us
feel secure, it's Pierce City, after all we've been through," she
Using proceeds from long-term bonds to buy fire trucks is a
common practice because the useful life of a fire truck can exceed
20 years, said Marty Matthews, owner of Jon's Mid-America Fire
Apparatus in Rogersville. His company sold the truck to Pierce
"That truck could last Pierce City perhaps 30 years, because
they don't have the frequent calls of an urban department and they
treat the truck like a baby, with great care," he said.
Matthews said that in more than 40 years of selling fire trucks,
he knew of just one repossession because of a default in payments,
and that was because of theft from a local government in
Pennsylvania. But business is business and promises must be kept.
"So Pierce City is in a really bad spot on this, and these are
good hardworking folks just caught in a cash flow jam," Matthews
Volunteer firefighter David Rogers, 29, had jumped into the new
rig the night of May 4 to drive a pre-designated route alerting
townspeople to take cover. He made the circuit twice, then saw a
transformer explode and roof shingles flying as the twister
approached from the west.
There wasn't time to move the truck, and no adequate cover for
it anyway. So Rogers gripped the steering wheel and held on as tree
limbs crashed against the cab.
"It all went through in less than a minute, and then I saw the
damage and used my radio to call for help. I told them to send all
the resources they could to Pierce City," said Rogers, whose
father and four brothers all serve as volunteer firefighters.
Matthews tentatively estimated damage to Pierce City's truck at
$15,000, which will likely be covered by insurance. His company
will loan a used pumper to the community while it makes repairs.
"It's hard to explain to folks in big cities with huge fire
departments the sense of security we get from just one modern fire
truck," said Ed Schiska, chief of Pierce City's all-volunteer fire
department. "Fire equipment is terribly expensive to maintain and
it's a huge expense for a small city."
Editor's Note: Donations may be sent to Fire Truck Fund care of
Pierce City City Hall, 112 East Commercial Street, Pierce City,
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)
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05-13-2003, 05:25 AM #1
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